Virtual reality is used to treat phobias and other psychological conditions such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It can be used alongside traditional therapies or on its own and has helped thousands of people to overcome their fear or an addiction.
What do we mean by virtual reality therapies? This refers to a range of computer simulated treatments for various addictions, such as smoking, alcohol, overeating etc. These consist of a virtual environment in which the sufferer undergoes a simulated experience of their complaint.
Virtual reality and counselling
Virtual reality is used as a form of counselling. For example, someone who is addicted to smoking is helped to overcome their craving for nicotine by means of hypnotherapy via virtual reality. They wear virtual reality glasses which display a series of relaxing images that are designed to relax them and make changes to their behaviour. The aim is to change the addiction seeking-side of their personality by channelling this into more positive forms of behaviour. This technology is used in conjunction with hypnotherapy and other forms of counselling.
What this and other forms of VR therapies do is to simulate the trigger for an addiction or phobia. In other words, it replicates a scenario where this behaviour is likely to occur so that the counsellor can observe their behaviour and reaction to it.
For example: someone who has a phobia about public speaking (very common!) will engage in a public speaking scenario within a virtual environment. This may take the form of a hall or some other public space complete with audience which the affected person then has to deliver a presentation to. The counsellor will observe their behaviour and from this will prescribe an appropriate course of treatment.
The aim is for the sufferer to become accustomed to this environment and to understand how and what cases their condition. As a result of this they will learn to confront and control the symptoms of their phobia to the extent that it lessens over time. Ideally their reaction will reduce to the point that they no longer experience it which can then be applied in the real world.
Phobias are discussed in more detail in our virtual reality in phobia treatment article.