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How Virtual Reality Improves Care for Mental Health Disorders

Virtual reality is a promising alternative for mental health treatments.


The virtual reality revolution is here. VR has exceeded everyone’s expectations in the last few years. Its applications aren’t merely for fun and games anymore. They have extended beyond the gaming industry. Now, VR is reshaping nearly every industry, including the field of healthcare.

VR has a wide range of applications in this sector, ranging from education, diagnosis, and treatment to rehabilitation. In recent years, researchers have been exploring VR’s potential to treat mental health disorders. While there’s a long way to go, VR has already proven to be quite a useful tool for mental health treatment.

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Here, we explore how virtual reality can improve care for mental health disorders.

Diagnosis of Mental Health Disorders

For patients to receive proper mental health treatments, they must receive an accurate diagnosis. Several mental health disorders share similar symptoms. Thus, misdiagnosis is often common. As a result, patients could receive ineffective prescriptions, leaving their illness untreated. The wrong medication could aggravate their symptoms as well.

Clinical interviews, as well as questionnaires, are often the basis of diagnosis. Relying on such methods alone may lead to inaccurate conclusions. But by adding virtual reality into the assessment of mental health disorders, professionals can evaluate their patients in controlled environments. Thus, professionals can safely induce symptoms to measure them.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Today, professionals are using virtual reality as a tool for exposure therapy in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorders. This approach reduces fear and anxiety by gradually exposing patients to situations that they find frightening. As a result, it should eliminate avoidance behavior and improve patients’ quality of life.

Avoidance behavior may be debilitating if left unattended, making PTSD symptoms worse. For instance, every time patients avoid a feared situation, they lose an opportunity to determine if it’s as dangerous as they initially thought.

Not all patients with PTSD can confront feared situations, emotions, and thoughts. Take veterans who’ve developed PTSD from combat exposure for example. Inserting themselves into combat situations again wouldn’t be wise. However, ignoring such fears wouldn’t be great for their mental health as well.

That’s where VR comes in handy.

In virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET), patients face their fears in computer-generated environments. VR headsets or computer-automated rooms make this possible. Either way, they’ll be able to confront their trauma safely.

Social Phobias

Mental health professionals often use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat social phobias such as public speaking anxiety. For this form of psychotherapy, patients usually work with a therapist to recognize their thinking patterns and develop coping behaviors. However, this treatment comes with a series of challenges. For starters, it’s costly and not everyone can pay for much-needed mental health services.

An app for cognitive behavioral therapy isn’t new. Often, such apps may feature voiceovers with animation or videos of a therapist talking. The problem is that these apps don’t promote meaningful interactions.

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The University of Rochester developed a virtual reality app to create personalized psychotherapy sessions. Patients can access the app from their smartphone. They can listen to and look at the therapist, as well as look around her office. In a session, the therapist may assign a task to the patient, such as asking them to complete an in-app questionnaire about anxiety levels.

Without a doubt, virtual reality has all the potential to revolutionize mental health care. However, we need further research to improve its applications and eliminate its disadvantages.


Gergana Mileva
the authorGergana Mileva
Based in Prague, CZ, Geri is a freelance journalist and writer, focusing on technology, finance, and marketing. If you have a story suggestion for Geri, you may contact her here.