The rise of VR exposure therapy

Virtual reality (VR) is being used to treat PTSD and other disorders. The key: It should be done in conjunction with a therapist.


June 8, 2021

Finally, virtual reality (VR) is actually good for something.

Per The New York Times, there is growing popularity in VR exposure therapy to treat those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other anxiety disorders.

Thanks to the falling cost of recreational VR headsets, the practice is being heralded as a breakthrough tool for psychologists.

It’s called ‘Prolonged Exposure’…

… and puts patients face to face with their trauma.

First developed by clinical psychologist Edna Foa, the premise is simple: Patients describe the traumatic event in detail to a therapist. The therapist then asks the patients to confront those traumatic triggers in the real world.

With VR, therapists are able to recreate traumatic triggers that would otherwise be impossible, such as war zones and bombings.

The ultimate psychology tool?

The psychologists interviewed by the NYT note that VR therapy is unlikely to replace other forms of therapy like talk therapy or real-life exposure.

And because of the availability of recreation VR headsets, some experts are concerned that patients may try it out for themselves, only to see no benefit — a therapist talking you through the exposure is the secret sauce.

“It’s the closest thing our field has to just making opioids available over the counter,” one therapist told the NYT.

Still, the results are positive

In a study of 20 Iraq veterans suffering from PTSD, 16 no longer met criteria for PTSD after VR exposure therapy.

VR’s therapeutic use goes beyond treating just PTSD. A recent study of 50 front-line nurses found that using VR headsets to simulate mindful meditation exercises in tranquil settings produced noticeable reductions in anxiety and stress.

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