The Future Of Virtual Reality In Mental Health Treatment: Phobias

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The future of virtual reality is not coming soon, it is already here. Headsets are available for purchase for only a few hundred dollars. Interacting with programs on specific phones, immersive virtual reality experiences are available. There are even theme parks utilizing virtual reality headset technology to enhance the experience of a roller coaster. Scientifically, researchers are looking at the immersive quality of virtual reality to heal mental health conditions. One area gaining ground in virtual reality treatment is post traumatic stress disorder. Immersing patients into a simulated environment while in the safety and security of an office, with a trusted psychological professional, can help take on worst fears and confront them using therapeutic tools. Facing fears through virtual reality is another area where treatment is developing. Virtual reality may be the treatment of the future for extreme phobias.

Phobias are a form of an anxiety disorder. Having a phobia of something means having a deep and irrational fear of it. Living with a phobia isn’t living with a severe dislike or high level of uncomfortability around a process or an object. Like an anxiety disorder, a phobia can cause physical reactions like a racing heartbeat, sweating, and psychological reactions like panic. When a person meets their phobia in person, it can feel like an immediate threat to life. Phobias can become so severe that people manipulate their lives around avoiding their phobia.

According to The Daily Mail, clinics in Australia are using virtual reality and/ or augmented reality to confront patients with their fears and help them work through their reactions to their fears. Virtual reality creates a completely graphic immersive environment in which a fictional scenario plays out, for example, receiving an injection by a doctor or standing on top of a building. Augmented reality is when a patient sees their true environment through a device, like a phone, but has computer graphic fictional components projected onto the image. For example, looking at one’s hand through a phone camera then “seeing” a spider crawl onto their hand.

Exposure therapy is one of the most controversial yet tried therapeutic methods of helping people work through their phobias. “Using virtual reality is known as exposure therapy,” the article explains, “and follows the idea that if you are presented with the phobic stimulus more than a handful of times in a safe environment your fear will diminish over time.” Just using the virtual reality is not the extent of the treatment. Clinicians also teach patients muscle relaxation techniques as well as breathing techniques while showing clients how to identify the source of their anxiety.  


Phobia and anxiety treatment is part of the mental health program at Avalon By The Sea. Our primary mental health facility is one of California’s few trusted residential treatment programs, providing trusted results in healing mind, body, and spirit. For a confidential assessment and more information, call us today at 888-958-7511.

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