The Therapeutic Uses of Virtual Reality

Karina Sinha
May 22, 2020 · 3 min read

Mental health. It’s a scary topic, one people shy away from, because so many of us don’t really understand it. “Just get over it” and “Have you tried not being sad?” are frequent phrases often heard from well meaning friends and family, but the fact of the matter is that mental illnesses are a lot trickier to shake than just a case of the blues.

1 in 5 adults in America are going through mental health issues at any given moment. To put that in perspective, in 2018 that amounted to 47.6 million people. But only 43.3% of those people ever received treatment.

Enter Virtual Reality.

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For many people, VR means Beat Saber, Vacation Simulator, and other games. But for many others, VR represents hope, a chance to improve their wellbeing. Doctors have already begun to use VR as a medium to help patients who need physical therapy, but what about patients who need therapy for their mental health?

Dr. Albert Rizzo, named by Forbes in 2017 as the father of the clinical virtual reality industry, was one of the first to think of using VR to help patients in need of mental health services. One of his tools, Bravemind, was developed to help patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) using exposure therapy. In virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET), the VR headset is used to generate a virtual environment replicating the one where the patient’s trauma occurred. This allows for therapists to see exactly what the patient is seeing as well as monitor the patient to see how they are responding. It also allows the patient to know that they are safe while confronting the source of their trauma.

Some studies have shown that VRET may be helpful in treating several anxiety-related disorders and problems as well. Patients with various phobias including claustrophobia and arachnophobia have responded to treatment, as well as patients with social anxiety. There are already some VR apps to help treat anxiety disorders on the market, and some such as Psious are also aimed at improving general mental wellbeing. There are also companies such as Mimerse which work with healthcare professionals and scientists to create therapeutic VR apps.

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And VR treatment doesn’t stop there. At the University of Rochester, Michael Hasselberg pitched the idea of a customizable and immersive virtual reality app. By playing specific video clips (filmed in a therapist’s office using a VR camera) in response to how the patient answers certain questions, the app can then tailor the therapist’s suggestions to the patient’s experiences.

If VR can be used for improving mental wellness, why can’t it also be used to expand mental awareness? Taking it a step farther, why can’t mental awareness be used to improve mental wellness?

AfterDeath is a virtual reality experience based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. As the name implies, the user will explore the Tibetan Buddhist answer to a question many people have: What happens to us after we die? And in having that question, most people suffer from some form of anxiety relating to their death. This is especially true for those with any form of mental illness. AfterDeath, in helping us resolve these questions and guiding the user through the different bardo states, may be beneficial to those with severe anxiety over their eventual death. Perhaps even those who are nearing death would find some solace from the experience?

To learn more about AfterDeath or BardoVR, feel free to check out our website at www.bardovr.com.

BardoVR Blog

Official blog of BardoVR, creator of AfterDeath: a…

Karina Sinha

Written by

Game Science & Design Graduate Student at Northeastern University! I like nerdy stuff, love my dog, and am passionate about games that change lives :)

BardoVR Blog

BardoVR’s is the creator of AfterDeath, a highly-interactive, game-based, virtual reality simulation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which describes the journey consciousness takes from the moment of death until its rebirth in another form. Check out our website: www.bardovr.com

Karina Sinha

Written by

Game Science & Design Graduate Student at Northeastern University! I like nerdy stuff, love my dog, and am passionate about games that change lives :)

BardoVR Blog

BardoVR’s is the creator of AfterDeath, a highly-interactive, game-based, virtual reality simulation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which describes the journey consciousness takes from the moment of death until its rebirth in another form. Check out our website: www.bardovr.com

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