Virtual Reality Treatment
What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual reality is a technology that is used to extend reality as we know it. VR technology introduces new stimuli in a way that mimics actual reality, forcing the mind to expand its concept of what’s real and what isn’t. Simply put, virtual reality is an artificial environment that’s created with the help of special equipment and software. The goal is to stimulate the senses in such a way that the user temporarily feels as though what’s presented to them is the reality of their environment. This technology has been used in gaming for years, but VR has expanded, and we’ve begun to discover its potential for improving lives, most notably, through hypnosis, exposure therapy, and meditation.
The Merging of Virtual Reality and Healing
Over the past decade, there’s been a growing number of studies on the use of virtual technology in the medical field. Most of these studies have centered around the use of VR technology for pain relief. One study in particular, Application of Virtual Reality Technology in Clinical Medicine, is of huge interest because it details and provides evidence of the many ways VR technology can be used for healing.
Virtual reality has been shown to be effective in relieving and managing acute and chronic pain. At first, the effects were tested using a type of VR game, that when used in conjunction with other traditional therapies was beneficial in relieving pain. Taking this one step further, researchers looked at what happens when hypnosis type VR programs are used for pain management, and this is what they found.
When exposed to “distraction” type VR stimuli during hypnosis, the patients felt both less pain and less anxiety about their current level of discomfort. The example in the study mentions that patients are glided along an icy environment where they can basically float along, or interact with some of the elements. What happens here is that the mind is tricked into believing that reality has changed, and so it adapts to the new environment, which for people in the study, included less stress and pain.
Wonderful, right? Virtual reality can help people manage pain with less need for pharmaceutical treatments. Who wouldn’t be on board with this?
Tapping into the Power of the Mind with VR
Each step we take with virtual reality in any of the healing fields leads us to the point where it becomes essential to look at how and why virtual reality affects the mind. In the same study mentioned above, researchers also looked at how VR hypnotherapy is used to effectively treat certain psychological conditions such as anxiety and phobias.
For these two conditions, exposure therapy has been shown to be extremely effective. The challenge with this is that exposure therapy isn’t always practical, or even possible. Take, for example, someone with a debilitating fear of flying. Exposure therapy can certainly help them deal with their anxiety and eventually overcome their fears. The only challenge with this is that repeated exposure to the situations that cause them distress is extremely costly, and not even in the realm of practice for most people.
Sure, there are tools like flight simulators that can be used, but even these don’t fully place the patient in the reality of the environment that causes them the most fear. Virtual reality, on the other hand, is about as close to flying that a person can get without actually doing so. Through VR, a patient can learn to adapt to the sights, sounds, and feelings of being in an aircraft. They can even confront more distressing situations like extreme turbulence, or troublesome passengers, and face their fears head-on in an environment that’s completely comfortable and safe.
When it comes to treating psychological disorders and emotional distress, there’s only so much that can be accomplished on the proverbial therapist’s couch. Real treatment begins when the patient learns how to think, react, and behave in real-world situations. For many people, this means taking a step out into the world and trying the waters for themselves.
Virtual reality hypnosis provides a realistic playground on which to build these skills. Rather than a practitioner accompanying the patient into the environment that causes them stress, the entire scenario can be lived out using headset and software. This gives both patients, and the people treating them a little more freedom in developing the best course of treatment.
But, say a person isn’t dealing with what someone might consider being a significant psychological issue. Maybe they’re looking to feel a little more motivated, finally quit a bad habit or improve their concentration and focus. Can these things also be addressed using virtual reality hypnosis? Yes, absolutely they can, and it all begins with something called neuroplasticity.