At Online Therapy Company we provide Virtual Reality Therapy.
Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT) or Virtual Reality Immersion Therapy (VRIT) is a contemporary method combining technology and evidence-based psychological techniques to help treat psychological problems such as phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, panic attacks and more.
VRT makes use of key principles of behavioural therapy, namely graded exposure and systematic desensitization which essentially allows individuals to overcome psychological issues (most commonly phobias) in a step-by-step, structured way with the guidance of a trained professional. This is achieved through joint collaboration of the client and therapist, who work together to create a ‘fear hierarchy’ and slowly work their way up towards the most fear or anxiety-inducing situation using imagined (in-vitro) and eventually, real (in-vivo) scenarios. While these techniques are shown to be effective, one of the main limitations is the lack of realism and difficulty for individuals to overcome a feared situation using their imagination.
VRT overcomes this limitation by using modern equipment, with simulations which incorporate visuals, sounds and motion to make the experience as real as possible, thus empowering the individual and making it easier for them to face these situations in real life.
The practicality of VRT makes it accessible to individuals of all ages, as well as those who may feel extremely anxious about facing the feared object or situation in real life.
It is particularly suited to individuals who have anxiety-related issues including, but not exclusive to individuals who have or experience:
VRT can also be used for individuals with a diagnosis of PTSD, such as those who have been involved in or have witnessed war or combat.
VRT works by using a ‘headset’ which immerses the individual into a simulation, recreating the feared situation. Slowly, the individual explores the simulation with the guidance of the therapist and again, faces the feared stimulus in a systematic, step-by-step way. For example, if the individual is afraid of dogs, the simulation may begin with the individual walking towards a park. At regular intervals, individuals rate their anxiety (for example, on a level of 1-10) and use relaxation techniques throughout.
They may see a dog from far in the simulation, and when they feel ready, they may pat the dog or stand by it. As the client reaches out their hand in real life, the avatar will also reach out their arm, making the experience as real as possible.
VRT is a completely safe technique which can be used in the comfort of a clinic or other space preferred by the client. While it is likely to induce anxiety for the client, individuals are supported by a trusted therapist throughout the entire process and are much less likely to feel overwhelmed as they would if they were in a real-life (in-vivo) situation.
VRT offers the additional advantage of confidentiality in comparison to traditional graded exposure techniques, as the client does not need to be out in the community.
VRT has a growing and promising evidence base, supporting its effectiveness as a mode of online psychological therapy. For example, in one study comparing VRT to a control group (no treatment) for individuals with a fear of heights, the authors found a significant and positive effect of VRT in reducing anxiety and distress in comparison to the control group (Rothbaum et al., 1995).
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Rothbaum, B. O., Hodges, L. F., Kooper, R. I. R., Opdyke, D., James, M. S. S., Williford, M. D., & North, M. S. (1995). Effectiveness of computer-generated (virtual reality) graded exposure in the treatment of acrophobia. American Journal of Psychiatry, 152, 626-628.