Hi-tech help at hand for phobia sufferers
People with phobias could be helped by the arrival of commercially available virtual reality systems, a study has found.
Using the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift VR systems, researchers from the University of Melbourne have proved that VR could provide cheap and accessible mental health care, such as dealing with fears of public speaking, heights and spiders.
Rudimentary VR systems, which cost thousands of dollars, have been used by medical professionals to treat patients with a fear of flying for decades, but the new systems, which are cheaper and more advanced, could expand the range of treatment.
Greg Wadley, a technologist from the university, said the new systems can vast ly improve on the realism and immersion offered by old VR technology, as well as making situations more behaviorally accurate.
“So you can imagine the audience responding to things that you’re saying in a realistic way,” Wadley told the ABC network on Wednesday.
Wadley said the technology offered the opportunity to treat patients with a fear of public speaking or of animals such as spiders with exposure therapy, whereby patients face the object or situation they have a phobia of in a completely controlled environment.
The university team believe the next big step for VR is to use it in conjunction with psychiatric therapy sessions to treat disorders such as depression or other forms of mental illness.
Wadley said current treatments for these conditions involve trying to help people understand how their minds work. An example of this is teaching them about “mindfulness”.
The idea of mindfulness is to view your thoughts as being in some sense external to you, so that you can observe them appearing and disappearing, and so deal with them better.
“You can actually visualize your thoughts and your emotions as thoughts that are in front of you and that you can deal with.
“They’re not just part of you that you have no control over, they’re objects that you can manipulate or deal with in some way,” he said.