I just attended a conference on Virtual Reality Therapy... a treatment that uses custom virtual environments that have been carefully designed to address a particular anxiety or phobia. Being a lover-of-all-things-new and an member of the geek squad, I could barely hold my enthusiasm for this promising clinical intervention. Right now, Virtual Reality Therapy is a small niche, where several research universities and forward thinking practitioners are using this exposure therapy for anxiety and phobic disorders.
The treatment involves exposing a patient to a virtual environment containing the feared situation rather than taking the patient into the actual environment or having the patient imagine the anxiety promoting situation. The patient puts on the headgear, and the virtual environment is controlled by the therapist through a computer keyboard. The treatment sessions allow the therapist and the patient full control of the exposure to the feared situations. Virtual reality exposure treatment allows the therapist to manipulate situations to best suit the individual patient during a standard therapy hour (usually 45-50 minutes) and within the confines of the therapist's office .
Here are actual Virtual Reality Therapy Scenes...
Fear of Flying
Fear of Spiders
Fear of Heights
Fear of Thunder and Lightning Storms
Fear of Public Speaking
Virtual Reality Therapy does not only address psychological issues. VRT has also been used in the hospital and medical settings.
Dr. Hunter S. Hoffmann, a pioneer in Virtual Reality Therapy, recently completed a study of burn patients using headgear that allowed patients to enter a pleasant virtual reality environment as they underwent painful wound care.
Although this line of research is just beginning (with funding from NIH, the Paul Allen Foundation), results indicate a significant decrease in pain that patients experience.
And researchers at Emory University School of Medicine, Virtually Better Incorporated, and The National Institutes of Health (NIH), are testing the use of Virtual Reality Therapy to find out if it can help people with lower back pain learn how to relax, breath properly, and manage their pain .
Schare, M. (2005) Virtual Reality Psychotherapy: Anxiety Treatment and Beyond. Nassau County Psychological Association Annual Conference, Garden City, New York, 10/28/2005.
 Virtually Better Website: http://www.virtuallybetter.com/
 Scientific American Hoffman, H. (2004) Virtual Reality Therapy accessed @ http://www.sciam.com/print_version.cfm?articleID=000CDC34-D80E-10FA-89FB83414B7F0000
 Emory University: http://www.whsc.emory.edu/pressreleases2.cfm?announcementidseq=2539