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Can Virtual Reality transform psychological healthcare?

Can Virtual Reality transform psychological healthcare?
In the 1990s, psychologists realised Virtual Reality should be embraced in clinical research. For the following two decades academics have been developing novel ways to use the technology to solve problems and increase treatment options.
Virtual Reality exposure therapy immerses the client in an artificial world so they feel and behave like they are actually present in this virtual world. The worlds and avatars can be quickly adapted to represent each individual’s situation, allowing them to face their fears and overcome associated anxieties in a safe environment. The treatment has proved extremely clinically powerful and has had positive outcomes for clients who have previously appeared to be treatment resistant. It has been used to treat a wide range of phobias including flying, heights, spiders and public speaking. Treatment of PTSD has been extensively researched, particularly in military populations as it offers a safe and accessible method of exposure to the trauma stimuli.
Pain management treatment has been transformed by the development of VR. Being immersed in a virtual environment while undergoing a painful procedure distracts an individual from the pain they are experiencing and has been shown to be successful in dental treatment, physical rehabilitation, burn treatment and cancer treatments in both adults and children.
In ground-breaking research that really emphasises the potential of Virtual Reality, the pain experienced by individuals with long-standing phantom limb syndrome following amputations was reduced when they had this limb in a virtual reality environment.
As a clinical organisation, CBT Clinics remain at the forefront of innovation and has been conducting clinical trials using Virtual Reality as a treatment pathway for a range of anxiety disorders. Sarah Page, Clinical Service Manager, has completed research exploring the use of Virtual Reality to prevent intrusion development following a traumatic experience. The study found individuals who were immersed in a virtual environment shortly after watching a series of traumatic videos experienced significantly fewer intrusions in the following week.
Clearly Virtual Reality has opened new possibilities in psychological healthcare and this looks set to develop further.


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