VR simulation testing (USC)
Confront your fears—that’s the basic tenet of exposure therapy, a therapeutic method used to treat anxiety that involves gradually increasing time and intensity of exposure (real or imagined) to the feared situations or objects in question. For people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traditional exposure therapy has been pretty effective. But, what if it’s unsafe, illogical, or impossible to put someone in a certain situation? Is there a way we could improve exposure therapy to make it more effective for people suffering from psychological trauma?
The answer may come from an unexpected place—virtual reality. Recently, many behavioral scientists have been harnessing the therapeutic potential of virtual reality technology by developing prototypes for “virtual reality exposure therapy” and testing them out on people with post-traumatic stress. With virtual reality exposure therapy, someone with PTS can be transported into an artificial environment modeling the traumatic situation from their past, granted the opportunity to relive it in a safe, controlled environment. Just like with traditional exposure therapy, a trained psychologist is there to guide the length and intensity of the exposure; unlike with traditional therapy, the subject can receive tactile, olfactory, auditory, and visual information, resulting in a more palpable re-creation of the traumatic memory.
Once immersed in the VR, I would imaging even the worst graphics will become real (via USC)
So far, virtual reality exposure therapy has been shown to be effective, and it’s gaining more traction in psychological research. One prototype that researchers at the University of Southern California have been trying out is “Virtual Iraq/Afghanistan” exposure therapy, a program developed by the university’s Institute for Creative Technologies for those suffering from combat-related PTSD. The user is transported into environments reminiscent of combat zones, including virtual city and desert landscapes. During the therapy session, a trained clinician is able to control the stimuli as well as talk to the patient through what they call a “wizard of Oz” interface. The Virtual Iraq/Afghanistan program has been shown to reduce PTSD symptoms and has since been adopted by medical centers as well as military, university, and private clinics for therapeutic and research-related uses.
The researchers at USC believe virtual reality exposure therapy has many advantages over the traditional therapy, noting that the patient no longer has to rely solely on imagination or memory. Additionally, they suggest that young people in the military may be more attracted to virtual reality than to the standard talk therapy, perhaps because those in their generation are more accustomed to using technology in daily life.
Military personnel are not the only ones who can benefit from this technique—in theory, virtual reality exposure therapy can be used to treat anything that traditional therapy can. So far, scientists have used it to treat various anxiety issues, including social anxiety disorder, fear of flying, and fear of public speaking. Overall, the potential of virtual reality in clinical psychology is huge, and the possibilities for this technique as a therapeutic tool are still being explored.
See more news at: