An innovative therapy that has already been reported to be effective in cases of anxiety and depression.
Today, depression and anxiety disorders have become the most common mental disorders in our society. Over the years, different methodologies have been proposed to address its treatment. One of the most recent is Virtual Reality Therapy.
This form of therapy allows situations to be relived in a virtual way, so that patients safely experience different problem situations. Data from various investigations show positive results with few treatment sessions.
Virtual Reality Therapy for the treatment of depression
A study carried out by the University College London (UCL) and the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA) suggests that virtual reality therapy (VRT) may become a form of treatment for depression in the future. The research was carried out with 15 subjects suffering from a depressive disorder. The age of the participants ranged from 23 to 61 years, and the results were positive in 60% of the cases.
Thanks to the fact that the cost of hardware has become cheaper and its functionality has increased, studies in this line of research have increased in recent years. Still, until now, few had treated depression as they focused on anxiety disorders. The research carried out by the UCL and ICREA used techniques that had already been shown to be effective in other forms of therapy, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Therapy.
For this research and after placing the virtual reality headset on the study participants, the treatment began with the patient observing his own body in a mirror. This elicited the incarnation or illusion that the avatar (virtual identity) was his own body. The patients were then asked to show compassion for a distressed child. After taking care of him, he stopped crying and responded positively. Afterwards, the image changed perspective (to the child’s vision) and the child saw (that is, the subjects) an adult saying his own words and gestures.
The importance of self-compassion
This 8 minute scenario was repeated three times in a three week period. Of the participating subjects, 9 out of 15 showed a significant reduction in depressive symptoms. However, although the results are positive, the lack of a control group makes it necessary to carry out more research to confirm these results.
Dr. Chris Brewin, study director and professor of psychiatry, explains: “Self-pity is important as it calms feelings of distress, because otherwise distress can take over and is really unbearable.” The author adds: “We now know that many patients with depression and other disorders have real problems being compassionate towards themselves, although they are often very good at being compassionate towards others.”
Virtual Reality Therapy for the treatment of anxiety
Virtual reality therapy has not only been shown to be effective for the treatment of depression, but for the treatment of anxiety it has long been used.
There are several companies that have begun to include it as one of their services, because it has shown its effectiveness in different anxiety disorders, especially for the treatment of phobias. For example, it is possible to recreate through virtual reality the environment of an airplane while it is flying. It has also shown its effectiveness in helping public speaking.
This technique has also been used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients, who suffer from this condition due to a sexual assault, a car accident or a terrorist attack, such as the attack that occurred on September 11 in the United States. United, and in which there were thousands of affected. The researchers claim that, in addition, it has also shown effectiveness with eating disorders or alcoholism. The idea is that when a person is in a safe, three-dimensional environment, they can deal with the problem or the people causing anxiety more effectively.
TRV helps the patient cope with harsh emotions safely
One of the leading experts in the application of this technique is Skip Rizzo, director of research for virtual reality in medicine at the Institute of Creative Technologies, University of Southern California. “When you talk about traumatic experiences such as the experience of war or sexual assault, these are events that will change someone for life,” explains Rizzo. “We are not creating digital violations here. Our goal is to get a person to be closer to dealing with tough emotions safely, “this one adds.
Therefore, is Virtual Reality Therapy the future of psychology? Time will tell.