Virtual Reality Therapy

Thrive Psychology Clinic > Blog > Virtual Reality Therapy

August 26, 2020 / By thadmin2

VR Therapy

  1. What is Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT)?
  2. Applications of Virtual Reality in the Treatment of Psychological Conditions
  3. Parenting a child who may have mental and behavioural needs and thus may require Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT)

 

What is Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT)? 

Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT) is the use of a computer-generated virtual environment for psychological therapy and rehabilitation purposes. Using a head-mounted device (i.e. virtual reality headset), a programmed setting is created which allows individuals to navigate through a variety of digitally created activities and environments. VRT is often widely used together with Exposure Therapy (ET), although in some events it can be used in the area of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). The way in which this works best is through presenting the fearful or dangerous stimulus in small increments  to help the individual learn the appropriate response (Opris et al., 2012). Typically, the goal is to allow the client to engage, confront and process difficult situations by being placed in a virtual reality environment. 

Recently, VRT is getting an increased amount of attention as it is able to simulate environments that would be otherwise difficult to get to on a daily basis (e.g. being in front of an audience for public speaking, being in social everyday settings, war simulations).  Furthermore, the increase in the availability of VR technology as well as its success in treatment has boosted its popularity.

 

 

Applications of Virtual Reality in the Treatment of Psychological Conditions 

By applying virtual reality technology to therapy, the environment created for the client is safe and controlled as the psychologist is able to manage and alter the environment based on the client’s needs. In this environment, the Psychologist provides guidance to clients and assists them in building confidence to face their fears, anxieties and traumas. Today’s VR content has been extremely beneficial for treating disorders such as:

Common applications of Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT) include:

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Specific Phobias
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Meditation

Our psychologists here at Thrive are highly trained in conducting a wide range of Virtual Reality Environment exercises using VR technology. Some of which include: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Specific Phobias, Anxiety, Depression, Addiction, Meditation and Eating Disorders. A brief description of some of these applications can be found below. 

 

Eating Disorders

VR technology can be used to alter one’s body image and incrementally rid the individual of the negative cognitive thought process related to eating and body. In a process such as using VR computer programmes to treat Eating Disorders/Body Dysmorphia, the individual is usually put in situations which may be difficult or cause discomfort. Through this, they are faced with developing specific strategies for either avoiding or coping with it. This allows the client’s emotional and behavioural reactions to be strengthened. This form of VRT in aiding Eating Disorder treatments has gained more attention due to the increase in client’s motivation to experience a new situation, which has, in turn, exhibited success in using VRT to treat Eating Disorders/Body Dysmorphia.

 

Social Anxiety

When combined with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), VRT can help treat those with Social Anxiety Disorder. This is the case due to the behavioural aspect of Social Anxiety being directly targeted through the use of VRT. As a result, research has shown that clients who chose to undergo CBT combined with VRT experience a shortened treatment period as individuals reported decreased frequencies in anxiety and depressive symptoms (Gereats et al., 2019). In these computer-generated programmes, artificial but realistic social settings are created, such as going back to school after a holiday, to help individuals develop effective coping strategies and appropriate social skills to handle the environment. Through the use of VR to decrease the effects of Social Anxiety Disorder, the practice of doing everyday tasks that may result in Anxiety symptoms becomes more purposeful and allows individuals to simulate several different tasks comfortably. It also provides an element of flexibility and confidentiality as clients can work or improve at their own pace. 

 

Autism Spectrum Disorder

The rising use of VR technology has been adopted by therapists, counsellors and teachers since the mid-1990s to aid individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Similar to Social Anxiety/School Refusal, computer programmes are tailored specifically to create artificial social settings and interactions, such that individuals learn to assimilate better with their environment and have the chance to practice their social skills. Additionally, participating in such therapies may even allow the individual to gain self-confidence in speech, as well as learn empathy in their speech and interactions with others. Similarly, a recent study conducted by Newcastle University and Third Eye NeuroTech has shown that VR Therapy can be used to successfully help children with Autism who struggle with other disorders such as Anxiety and Specific Phobias by alleviating their experience of phobias. 

 

Psychoeducation: Stress Management Techniques 

Lastly, our Virtual Reality technology here at Thrive Psychology Clinic can be used to help individuals understand and manage their stress efficiently. This is done by entering a virtual environment that allows the individual to understand the meaning, phases and consequences of stress, techniques to alleviate stress including muscle relaxation and respiratory control techniques. Similarly, this approach may be used for individuals who struggle with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Overall, the goal of psychoeducation is to ensure that individuals affected with such disorders understand their diagnosis and have an optimistic mindset towards seeking help and improving their mental wellbeing. Therefore, in an event where the disorder experienced is causing stress and discomfort to the individual, psychoeducation of stress management techniques can help to overcome the stress.

 

Parenting a child who may have mental or behavioural needs and may require VRT

Parenting a child with mental and behavioural needs can be challenging and overwhelming at times. It is important to develop an effective support system for your child to help them thrive in various aspects of their lives. Here are some useful tips that may help you:

Throughout the journey with your child, it is crucial for the parents: 

  • Learn and research more about the disability. Keep yourselves updated. 
  • Be consistent and supportive of your child.
  • Talk to your child about his/her needs and wants and recognise your child as a unique individual.
  • Acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Join a support group to learn from other families as they might be able to provide support and more tips.
  • Have hope and set realistic goals for your child in the form of small increments to help guide them along the way.

 

Lastly, it is important to seek professional assistance if necessary. We recommend that you seek help early so that you do not have to bear the emotional burden alone. Our team of highly trained and experienced Psychologists, Counsellors, and Therapists are always ready to serve you and your child’s needs. At Thrive, we are the first clinic in Singapore to offer Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT) as a form of treatment to our clients. We cater to those struggling with a wide range of disorders, even including those who would simply like to work towards better mental health. Share your situation with us at the initial consultation, and we will work together towards curating an individualised treatment plan that is well suited to your needs. 

 

Contact us for any enquiries or to make an appointment with us.

 

References:

  • Opriş D., Pintea S., García-Palacios A., Botella C., Szamosközi S., David D. (2012). Virtual reality exposure therapy in anxiety disorders: A quantitative meta-analysis. Depress. Anxiety. 29:85–93. doi: 10.1002/da.20910.
  • Difede J., Cukor J., Jayasinghe N., Patt I., Jedel S., Spielman L., … Hoffman H. G. (2007). Virtual Reality exposure therapy for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder following September 11, 2001. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 68, 1639–1647.
  • Burdea G. C. (2003). Virtual rehabilitation–benefits and challenges. Methods of information in medicine, 42(5), 519–523.
  • Clus, D., Larsen, M. E., Lemey, C., & Berrouiguet, S. (2018). The Use of Virtual Reality in Patients with Eating Disorders: Systematic Review. Journal of medical Internet research, 20(4), e157. https://doi.org/10.2196/jmir.7898
  • Geraets, C., Veling, W., Witlox, M., Staring, A., Matthijssen, S., & Cath, D. (2019). Virtual reality-based cognitive behavioural therapy for patients with generalized social anxiety disorder: A pilot study. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 47(6), 745-750. doi:10.1017/S1352465819000225