Healing through Virtual Reality

March 16, 2018

There are numerous ways in which virtual reality can positively influence the mind of a client who is dealing with anxiety and depression. The latest virtual reality techniques (VRTs) can significantly improve treatment efficacy.

A graphic of a VR headset.

“VR” by Stephanie Haigney

State-of-the-art technologies allow healers to place clients in a completely different immersive world where they are able to undergo the necessary treatment safely and smoothly, in a controlled manner. Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) enabled by VRTs are highly effective. Virtual reality used to be an expensive mental health treatment option but mobile VR headsets like Gear VR made it available to a vast number of clients all over the world.

There is still a lack of research data that would allow one to predict the exact results of applying VRTs. However, clinical studies are expected to show revolutionary breakthroughs in psychology due to new treatment paradigms, which require no drugs and are based on the latest digital solutions.

Numerous new VR-based online applications are expected to help people deal with stress and even more severe psychological disorders. VR-based therapy are provided by licensed practitioners or, in some cases, conducted without any therapist. At the moment, there are several self-help programs for people looking to cope with anxiety, insomnia and other personal issues without visiting a specialist.

VRTs reduce stress and anxiety, especially if they involve biofeedback. For instance, a newly-developed meditative VR game called DEEP is expected to bring the patient’s’ mind and body back to productive functioning. The game allows players to explore a unique underwater world. They can influence it only with their breathing. As a result, various breathing techniques encoded into the game help clients have a profoundly relaxing experience. They are able to escape from reality, to a beautiful underwater world that slows them down allowing them to gradually gain control over their emotions.

Eden River is another deep relaxation program that takes clients to a totally peaceful world of exotic plants and animals. Players follow the tranquil river, accompanied by a relaxing music in a virtual space that is perceived like reality, which is similar to Zen Zone, another guided meditation journey. Zen Zone, designed especially for the Gear VR, also contains mind-body bridging interventions that involve breathing exercises. It includes a Zen Garden, a sacred place which clients can arrange the way they like, as well as other different spots for relaxation, which can be accessed at any time to restore inner forces. There are also “sound sculptures” designed to create a pleasant atmosphere for the players.

Another app, Guided Meditation VR, offers even more relaxing environments and experiences for patients, influencing inner health. Research was conducted at a military conference, testing the demo version of the Guided Meditation VR app on active-duty officers who deal with mental trauma, PTSD and suicidal intentions. The veterans of the Vietnam War and several soldiers who came back from Iraq reported that they felt a deep relief after using the application. Two men experienced catharsis, crying while testing Guided Meditation VR, and felt profoundly better afterwards. The symptoms of stress and anxiety reduced significantly and depression decreased.

Such studies still remain fragmented despite their high quality, thorough data collection and a comprehensive analysis. The sample size is simply insufficient. It’s obvious that MBIs based on VRTs possess a great potential to treat anxiety and depression. After overcoming crisis, the clients should reach psychological maturity: high awareness, agreeableness, emotional stability, and a proactive attitude towards life and career. However, more research is required to properly measure the outcomes.   

At different stages of life, people have to deal with the symptoms of anxiety, emotional exhaustion, low agreeableness, and high neuroticism. They might experience depersonalization, introversion, reduced psychological health, negative affectivity, and insufficient personal accomplishment. It may result in a significant decrease in their motivation level and the quality of their life. It is essential to prevent crisis and minimize its consequences, restoring the clients’ mental health. MBIs based on VRTs show positive effect in overcoming anxiety and depression. The clients are expected to reach the improved agreeableness, higher awareness, and emotional stability. VRTs are supposed to facilitate personality development, which is closely connected with social fulfillment of an individual. Therefore, VRTs are expected to provide the qualitative changes of self across the life span. It should help people to reach psychological maturity and thus build a more efficient and developed society.


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