VR Therapy and Counseling Center makes a splash in Grand Rapids as it wins $30k in national contest. The company was chosen by online voters for their services for mental health patients. They are using a revolutionary treatment for patients with mental health issues and phobias.
June 19, 2016
VR treatment for mental health patients wins $30k in national contest
GRAND RAPIDS, MI — A Grand Rapids counseling center is finding success treating patients for post traumatic stress syndrome, phobias and social anxiety using multi-sensory virtual reality technology.
Because the virtual reality experience feels real, this high-tech tool can be more effective than traditional talk therapy or role playing, says Thomas J. Overly, psychotherapist, counselor and owner of VR Therapy and Counseling Center in Grand Rapids.
“It’s getting to the point where we can make it photo realistic,” said Overly. “It’s a lot more dimensional than a screen. You put on the headset and you feel like you are already there.”
That high-tech approach is why VR Therapy and Counseling Center won a national prize geared to startups.
Overly says the treatment has been successful in helping teens struggling at school. The teen can take the role of other student in the simulation, letting the counselor become the patient and demonstrate how to respond to bullying or other behavior.
One of his clients overcame a fear of heights with the high-tech system by practicing walking a steep trail so he could go on a planned hiking trip with his wife.
“We are doing therapy that was impossible before,” said Overly, a trauma specialist. “So far, we have pretty much nothing success.”
A virtual reality treatment program usually takes about three months.
Overly came up with the idea while doing role playing with another therapist, a traditional technique to show people how to make healthier responses in stressful situations.
The Grand Rapids firm is one of six grand prize winners in Comcast’s “Innovations 4 Entrepreneurs” contest. The prize is a combination of $20,000 cash and consultation services from the cable giant. VR Therapy also collected $10,000 as one of 30 regional winners of the contest.
We are doing therapy that was impossible before. — Thomas J. Overly
Overly plans to invest the $30,000 prize money back into the organization to upgrade tech and expand capabilities.
“It’s going to give us a jump start to get everything going,” Overly said.
His expenses are higher than a traditional counseling centers because he employs programmers to create customized virtual reality programming for his patients.
Overly would like to provide the technology to other organizations because the treatment is so effective.
“We are going to give them the systems that we are already created to keep costs low,” he said.
He and the five other contest winners will collect their cash prize at Comcast headquarters in Philadelphia where they will consult with teams of business innovation experts on how to implement their technology plan.
The experts will cover financials, business planning, operations and technology, growth strategy and marketing. The counsel is coming from Robert Irvine, celebrity chef and restaurateur; Anita Campbell, founder and CEO of Small Business Trends; Chuck Sacco, MBA and Orly Zeewy, both of the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship at Drexel University.
“I was trained to be a therapist but I wasn’t born business man,” said Overly. “I’m going to try to soak up as much knowledge as I can to implement any ideas I have. That is going to almost as important as the money itself.”
When he first saw the contest, he thought his business had a shot because of the focus on innovation and technology. The regional winners were picked from several thousand entries by a panel of judges, and the national winners were selected by the public through online voting.
Overly started seeing clients in January 2015, and provided free treatment to veterans in the first year. The practice accepts insurance, medicare, medicaid and offers a sliding fee scale for those who have to pay out-of-pocket.
VR Therapy, at 1618 Leonard St NE, is planning an open house, on Wednesday, June 22 to celebrate the award and let people try out the technology.