Virtual Reality is showing real signs of helping people with depression and the implications of this for the future are promising!
Virtual Reality Therapy for Depression
Writen by: Mike Bundrant
The future, as the cliché goes, is here.
Bionic limbs are approaching the functionality of natural appendages; traveling to space continues to get cheaper just as approval to mine space asteroids is approved in America, and genetic advancements are allowing the precise editing of genes that will one day (soon) open the possibility of designer babies.
Big and small, all problems are starting to have a high tech solution to them. The fight against depression is no outlier in this regard. Immersive virtual reality therapy is now coming the fore as a viable and accessible solution to treat depression.
Immersive virtual reality has long been a trope of science fiction, and as of late, popular culture. Whether it is the holodeck in Star Trek: The Next Generation or the entire story line of the anime Sword Art Online, virtual reality has been a part of modern culture. As the technology improves, it is finding new and more beneficial applications as virtual reality therapy.
Recently, a study done at the University College London has found that virtual reality therapy can help those suffering from depression by increasing their self-empathy and reducing their criticisms of themselves.
How were researchers able to reduce depression through virtual reality therapy?
The researchers used fifteen depressed people who were between the ages of 23 and 61. These patients were asked to wear a virtual reality headset. The headset showed life through the viewpoint of a virtual body that was viewing itself in a mirror. The interesting thing is that the actions of the virtual body mirrored the posture of the participants which created the perception that they themselves were really in the virtual world.
Under this perception, the participants were taught how to show compassion to a virtual child that was distressed. The child would stop crying and generally be comforted. The roles were then reversed and the participants were in the position of the virtual child and the very words of kindness they spoke to the child, were now said to them. This composed the virtual reality therapy. This episodic virtual reality therapy took about eight minutes and was done thrice every week.
The patients were contacted a month after their virtual reality therapy and reported a noticeable improvement in self-compassion and a reduced amount of unhelpful self-criticism.
This was the first experiment to verify the long hoped for possibility that virtual reality therapy could be successfully applied to treat mental disorders. It creates a new market for virtual reality content producers and gives a seriousness to the technology which it had lacked when its proposed uses seemed to be more aimed at leisure and entertainment.
Expect the increased and successful use of virtual reality therapies in the coming months and years.