Is VR right for all mental health issues?
The next question you will invariably be asking is whether VR therapy is right for all mental issues? Initially, it is best to consider using it with qualified therapists administering it. It should really only be seen as a tool that professionals can use in addition to what they would use normally. At least for now.
In the future, and the very near future undoubtedly, VR therapy may be possible without a therapist present. Artificial Intelligence is rushing ahead with a blinding speed. Before we know it, we will have fully virtual therapists present. But until then, the use of VR therapy should be determined by the type of mental health issue, and the level of treatment required.
As we’ve mentioned, phobias are some of the easier ones to use VR with. Treating a fear of flying or heights can be very effective in a VR environment. As it’s fairly inexpensive to recreate an airplane or a high building, then physically placing the person there. This is equally true for a fear of public speaking. These are also the first that will most likely be replaced with non-supervised, AI-based VR therapies. As the individuals themselves are able to easily place themselves in these situations and follow the instructions and exercises surrounding the treatment for these anxieties.
When treating anxieties, such as social anxiety, one method is through gaming, another is with VR. The simulated environments allow a safe space to practice and interact in a social manner. One technique is through role or body-swapping with a virtual therapist. The patient in effect speaks to a virtual person, explaining their social anxiety, and when they are done, they swap places, becoming the therapist, and listen to themselves explaining their anxieties. They are able then to observe and experience from an external position their own anxieties verbalized. Though this is only an initial therapy point, it would be advisable to move continue with a professional (or an advanced AI in the future?).
For PTSD, it is still recommended to have a qualified person guiding the treatment of a patient, when using VR. Of special note, when treating PTSD, the practice of EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, can be greatly improved with the help of virtual reality. As the EMDR essentially taxes the memory recall with eye movement, thereby lessening the effects of the traumatic memory. VR is almost tailored made for this method, as its immersive space allows for a very effective execution of EMDR. Especially as the VR simulation can take place in an overall, real, safe environment. And the patient can return to a calm, recognizable space.
Being in a calm space is also of use for those suffering from stress, and extreme distress. VR therapy is also moving into the meditative and mindfulness space. With companies creating simulations where stressed-out working professionals can go to. Calm environments which they can explore with ease, and be surrounded by relaxing sights and sounds. Or they can have personal guided meditations, without the need of a guide, for those that don’t want to go somewhere for this experience, or for those where closing your eyes doesn’t quite work.
The options for treatment and therapy are becoming enormous, and very soon they may well become endless.
Conclusion — The Future
As Artificial Intelligence becomes more powerful we will start seeing a version where AI will have emotion sense capabilities. Where intelligent machines can detect our emotions, judge our tone of voice and offer effective feedback and correct treatments.
On top of that, AI’s of the future will most likely integrate with our various (mobile) technologies, to interact, analyze and offer us more holistic and personalized treatments. Essentially using the technology, we use to learn about us as individuals:
“These artificial intelligence will be with us whenever we need them, keeping us company, supporting us, and making us feel secure and cared for in an increasingly complex and erratic world.” — Source
The overall thought I want to leave you with is that VR therapy offers the opportunity to supplement mental health care with inexpensive repeatable treatments, and an immersive experience for many that offer a greater sense of presence and trust. It may not be possible with all mental problems, yet. But as long as we take these first steps, one day in the future, everyone can reap the benefits of effective personalized virtual treatment.