Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Virtual Reality Therapy: The New Horizon

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[1].

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 [2].

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[3].

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 [4].


[1]Schare, M. (2005) Virtual Reality Psychotherapy: Anxiety Treatment and Beyond. Nassau County Psychological Association Annual Conference, Garden City, New York, 10/28/2005.

[2] Virtually Better Website: http://www.virtuallybetter.com/

[3] Scientific American Hoffman, H. (2004) Virtual Reality Therapy accessed @ http://www.sciam.com/print_version.cfm?articleID=000CDC34-D80E-10FA-89FB83414B7F0000

[4] Emory University: http://www.whsc.emory.edu/pressreleases2.cfm?announcementidseq=2539


Robert G. said...

Wow I had heard about VR treatments in medicine and psych. but I didn't know they had actually been developed. I'm curious to know how it helps people get over triskaidekaphobia?

Great blog :-D

Anonymous said...

This is SOOOOOOOOO cool! I'm grateful to know about this. As usual, very informative. Thank you. Peace.

Jon Schnaars said...

Dr. Deborah,

Really enjoyed your post today. I wrote an extensive magazine feature assignment as an undergrad about advances in VR and the possibilities that the medium held for many scientific fields. I thought your graphics were especially good (and much cooler than anything that I wrote about).
I started, along with some docs, my own psychology blog a couple of weeks back, and I've been covering all aspects of psychology. (I added your blog to my links section, and posted about one of your entries, I hope you don't mind!). But check us out sometime if you get the chance, I'd love to hear comments: The Psychology of Combating Stress, Depression and Addiction.
Keep up the great work.

PS - I'm a huge SVU fan, so keep up the great work there as well!!

Cathy said...

amazing; I don't know why it struck me so funny, thoug. I think it was the public speaking image. And how would it deal with the fear of waiting and fear of peanut butter stuck to the roof of the mouth that I had posted about;)

dawn said...

now, why would you want to do away with your chocoholic behaviors? chocolate is gooood :)

honestly though, this is a really neat idea. i really hope it takes off everywhere, i'd try it! cool

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Richard G,
I guess there would be alot of 13's in the VR world. On calendars, on street signs, homes, etc!!

Dear Traci,
I love learning new things, and enjoyed the topic...and the possibilities. So glad you found it informative too.

Dear Jon,
Thanks for linking me. I'll do the same for your wonderful site. It is so packed with information!!!!

Dear Cathy,
In that VR world, the lecturer showed us how he can program the crowd to boo, throw things, clap, roar with laughter etc. I bet peanut butter mishaps and all could be woven into the matrix too. LOL.

Dear Dawn,
Well....chocolate *is* good. Recent reports tout its benefits to our body. I guess, to DIMINISH my chocoholic habits would've been a better sentence ;]


doulicia said...

very cool. Just the photo of the airplane interior gave me the willies, so I should probably get a little therapy for my "relationship" with air travel!

Pewzen said...

You really write about all that interesting topics ~ and you are a great writer, too!

Have you ever learned/used hypnotherapy in your work?

Rose said...

I think that VR treatments are ground breaking especcially for people who have been burned. Putting them in a pleasant enviroment is a treatment that I think they should be sure to enhance. I used vr treatment to relieve stress. It was amazing...

Clare said...

That's really cool. Thanks for sharing that Deb.

for_the_lonely said...

I think that this is a great ground breaker for those people, such as myself, that suffer from anxiety and panic disorders. Is it safe to assume that individuals that suffer from severe panic attacks, even agoraphobia, would still need physical exposure to the fearful situations in order to overcome their fears? I am assuming that it would depend on the severity of their conditions...

I hope that you had a great Tuesday! :)


Heidi said...

OMG I love this! I had no idea it exists..I remember seeing this in the movie with Michael Douglas and Demi Moore..I don't remember the name.

Public Speaking is what I would use this for.

I wonder how much a session would cost?

Thanx Deb.

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Doulicia,
At the conference, there was a moving simulation of the VTR session and it was very powerful...like being in a plane!

Dear Pewzen,
I am not trained in hypnotherapy but plan to one day. I think it is a great tool. Thanks for the writing compliment. I "do* like to blab on in written form!

Dear Rose,
How wonderful that you got to use VRT firsthand. I am so pleased that it was successful in helping you. If you like, please tell us more about it.

Dear Clare,
Very cool stuff...I like sharing it on my blog sight and finding it at others' sites. I love visiting yours to see what cool things you have posted!

Dear Sarah,
Actually, VRT research says that actual field exposure or real exposure isn't necessary for success. That is why this treatment is so progressive. A person does not ever have to be in the experience for success...they just have to master their skills in the VR world and then the success translates to the real world. AMAZING.

Dear Heidi,
I could use the for SO many things. LOL!


OhioRuthie said...

This is so cool! I'd need it for the fear of heights...even some scenes in movies give me the heebie jeebiesLOL

for_the_lonely said...

Wow...Amazing indeed! I would MUCH rather have VRT than actual field exposure anyday! What a phenominal breakthrough!

chase said...

hey Deb! thanks for the spooky wishes, hope your holiday was swell. Jessica was a witch, and she had so much fun running from house to house in our new (safer) neighborhood...well that is until leatherface (character from texas chainsaw massacre movie) came chasing her with a chainsaw...she jumped in the car and locked the door! lol She loves to be scared out of her wits.

I loved those stickers you posted, i used to have tons of them and stuck them all over my books when i was a kid, i think you could get them with gum, like playing cards.

I also knew about the laugh classes someone posted about, its true...they dont even have to find anything funny, they just laugh, and laugh...seems silly but it's supposed to help w/ your health.

As for this VR post..it kind of creeps me out. I just read a story of this reporter who was writing a story about an invention that allows one to remote control PEOPLE! Yes, you have someone put the headphones on, and by using the remote control, you can make them go in any direction you want.

It's supposed to cause an electric vibration in your inner ear which would cause you to lean or lurch a certain way. They said you can fight it, but the reporter tried it and said she tried, but really couldn't.

Can you say mass control? secret weapon? government tampering? bad news?

maybe thr VR isnt that bad but there have been a lot of movies made about it, and sometimes I think there are areas and things we should just leave well enough alone and stop trying to play god.

good lord this was a long reply, i should have just posted on my own blog, or sent u an email. sorry. lol

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Ohioruthie,
I could find lotsa uses for myself, LOL. When it becomes less expensive I'd certainly give it a go!

Dear Sarah,
That is what is so great about this treatment. It can help so many!

Dear Chase,
LOL about your daughter!! I agree with you that with technological advances come dangers from the breakthrough. No doubt about that. I didn't know about the controlling aspects of VR ...sounds like there is an addition device that promotes an aversive reaction. And your comment wasn't too long, it was great!!!!!


kath said...

these things should be handed out by twos along with Dental degrees....!

good info... I am a fan of this as well....

Carie said...

thats so cool...saw something like this in a movie, man this could definatly help people

Nancy said...

This is rad! I would rather do VR than the real thing too. I fall into about four of the catagories. UGH.

I wonder how they could use it for overeaters and weight loss, management. I would be so there.

Great post!

What do you think of hypnotherapy Deb?

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Kath,
What a great idea. I know that many dentists use distraction like listening to music and watching television/movies, but this would be a great addition. The headgear would have to be smaller LOL.

Dear Carie,
What movie did you see this in? So glad you stopped by. Loved your Halloween pictures.

Dear Nancy,
Isn't it amazing technology? I think we'll see more ways this can be used positively. Hopefully, like Chase reminds us, it won't be used for negative!


Dirk the Feeble said...

I want to do VR during surgery, that's killer! I mean, as long as the docs don't get distracted by it or anything.

A Flowered Purse said...

OMG I have heard of that!
I so need that! You always have such interesting topics!
The pictures are so neat, ilove the airplane one. I need that for sure!
Have agreat mid week

Jackie said...

I think a VR world of just chocolate.....like willie wonka without the ompalumpa men would be wonderful!!!!! Ok, maybe not the best therapy......but I would be happy!

Love and Hugs,

ashley said...

OH MAN, i want to try it even though i dont have any real phobias besides real tight spaces, but how do you think they would make that in a virtual reality? I have a comment- a question in the q&a section...

ashley said...

have you heard anything about the vitamin 5HTP to combat and work just like antideressants? it is sold over the counter, and it is said to help ppl who are somewhat resistant to other meds, this may be useful to someone, i am going to ask my doctor asap- next week, esp if ppl dont have insurance, it is less expensive than SAMe and those others- i thought it was interesting?

Rose said...

I was so stressed out from the death of so many folks. I lost two brothers to cancer and 2 aunts and 6 uncles in less than 9 years. In addition to problems at the office with workers so since I worked at a University, a co-worker recommended this therapist to help me with stress. He used virtual reality to take me to a pleasant place. It was amongst the stars, passing planets, and drifting through space. There were no problems and no pain...just complete beauty and calmness...there everything felt like I could touch it with my hands. I had these funny goggle on kind of like a space thingy on...I even felt like I was in space driving ...I could see all this through these goggle, then truthfully I felled asleep. When I awoke I was refreshed. It really felt like I was there in space...everything was moving and it was very colorful.. He explained this was a new treatment called virtual reality..I don't remember everything..I hope that was what it was...I had never heard of it (virtual reality)and a first thought he was a quack but it did help...others at the university level used him and swear by this kind of theraphy..

Leesa said...

Wow, this is incredible! I have chocolate issues too:)
Thanks for the wonderful compliments on my photos and for linking me.

Deb S. said...

This is one of those times I wish I were in your profession, Dr. Deb. I would have loved to experienced these VR sessions.
Now why did you have to go and mention chocolate?? Excuse me while I head for the chocolate ice cream!

Robert G. said...

This really gets me thinking more and more every time I read it... looks like I need to get over my VR addiction. haha 8-)

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Armaedes,
I think there are so many possibilities with VRT, why not during surgery!!!

Dear Dianna,
I try to make the blog interesting. Psychology can be dry sometimes, but subjects like this are truly exciting.

Dear Jackie,
I think a VR world like that w/o the Oompa Loompas would be fun. They scare me too,.LOL...but I like their "theme song".

Dear Ashley,
I checked out your question and left an answer there.

Dear Rose,
You have experienced a tremedous amount of losses and stress. How brave you were to try something like VRT. It sounded so relaxing and beautiful. The serene quality of the stars, space, soaring and quietness sounds extremely peaceful. That you fell asleep tells all of us just how stress-free and healing it was. I am so glad it helped you.

Dear Leesa,
Your pictures are beautiful. I hope blogfriends here will check them out. You are very, very talented.

Dear DCS,
OK, OK, I am getting a lot of heat for the chocolate statement! But I REALLY do have chocolate issues. I have to have chocolate in the house at all times, and I even have an emergency chocolate in my pocketbook and in the car!

Dear Richard,
LOL, very punny.


T`bou said...

Wow its amazing what we're doing in the medical field as far as technology. Another great informative piece. But I don't think I want to diminish my luv for chocolate!

Josie said...

sounds interesting. I have a fear of extremely tall buildings. I won't go near the Statue of Liberty or the Lincolm Memorial. It was brought on by some childhood traumas I think. I can't even see facing them in the virtual world.

Michelle said...

Fascinating post. Based on your response to Cathy: "In that VR world, the lecturer showed us how he can program the crowd to boo, throw things, clap, roar with laughter etc." ... it seems depending on who is using this psych technology, it could be used for good or evil. (Oh, oh, sounding a little Star Wars-y) Sorry, hee.

Thanks for the info -- if my fear of all things creepy-crawly gets too out of control, I'll be giving you a call!

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear T'bou,
Isn't technology cool? And to use the newfound tools to help with patient care and healing is just plain fantastic!

Dear Zaria,
I think small steps could help you and me out with our fear of heights. The baby step approach lets you master a little bit at a time.

Dear Michelle,
The programs are hardwired to do certain things, like boo or throw things. I don't think the therapist could enact any more harmful things to do because of its design. BUT, I can see your point that people can design software that could be mean, evil and even harmful. Let's hope that personal accountability keeps these designers on the straight and narrow! So glad you finally posted again.


ellesu said...

How interesting. As far as fears/phobias are concerned.... I've heard people say to imagine the worst possible situation happening. I guess it's supposed to make you develop skills to deal with it. The VR reminded me of that technique.

Now....after the yummy chocolate picture why can't I just imagine eating some??

Groove said...

Interesting, There are some many people that suffer some kind of fear, Maybe this will help them. I heard alot of phobias are just anxiety of some sort...

Shirazi said...

Very informed piece here.

Heidi said...

Just stopping by to wish u a great weekend.


Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Ellsue,
LOL at your comment ;]

Dear Softspoken,
Phobias are rooted in anxiety and constriction, so true!

Dear Shirazi,
Thank you. How are you and your country doing with recovery and rebuilding efforts?

Dear Heidi,
Best wishes to you as well.

Happy weekend all,

Theo said...

thanks for this. intriguing.

Blogzie said...

Isn't science and technology a wonderful thing?

Wasn't there a New Age type of VR that was popular about 15 years ago? I think it was called 'imaging' or 'visualization'.

You simply projected your thoughts to the future and imagined yourself conquering your fears.

Virtual Reality certainly brings that to an entirely new level.


Thank You!

Nancy said...

Do you remember the last film that Natalie Wood ever did? She was the wife of Christopher Walkin. Louise Fletcher was in it. They were scientists who discovered VR and one guy died or close to it, from a Sex VR that he watched thru goggles.

astrorat said...

Dear Dr. D.

Very exciting information! thanks. i wonder if VR being used with OCD? i certainly would want to sign up ;)


Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Theo,
Glad you found this intriguing. I found your blog intringuing as well.

Dear Blogzie,
Creative Visualization, Flooding and Desensitization, which are sound techniques from years ago, were the seedlings for VRT. I think this will be quite a successful treatment once it gets more affordable.

Dear Nancy,
I remember that movie. I think Russell Crowe was in a movie with VR too.

Dear Astro-rat,
VRT can definitely be used with OCD!!! Your blog is wonderful. Witty, funny and informative.

CrackerLilo said...

That sounds so cool! I have, with limited success, dealt with my own acrophobia simply by forcing myself to go out on balconies, look out of high windows, etc. But I know not everyone can be counterphobic, and that kind of self-treatment can be really traumatic, too. This could be very interesting and helpful--I'm surprised it hasn't been thought of sooner.

just one of many said...

Not sure how VR would work for me, but it is definitely interesting!

Mr. Death said...

Thats really impressive, how far the psychological world has come in treating this.
Thanks for the informative article, I never would have known! I still don't like the idea of a spider on me, whether its virtual or not. XD
-JV <3

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Crackerillo,
You sound like a brave soul putting yourself right out there with your fear!

Dear Just One of Many,
I agree that VRT would have limitations. But working on trauma, anxiety and panic and reducing levels of pain have been very successful so far.

Dear Johnny,
I agree, I have a spider thing and wouldn't want to do VRT!!!!!


Rue said...

excellent post as usual Deb, Thanks!
I wouldn't say I even have a phobia. I don't like being in small spaces but I wouldn't say I feel fear when I am in them. I just feel uncomfortable. My recent MRI experience included...ick! Still I could see VR being a great help to people. The fact that they can get out of the situation easily untill they gradually don't feel they need to etc. What an amazing tool for therapy!

Shirazi said...

Hope you had a nice weekend.

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Rue,
I hear you on not being phobic about small spaces, but finding them uncomfortable. I just read a paper that talked about using VTR in MRI's. That's a great way to not feel so constricted and enclosed!

Dear Shirazi,
Hope you and yours are doing well and enjoying the weekend too.


Nurse Practitioners Save Lives said...

What do you call someone who is terrified of being restricted? Not claustrophobic, but afraid of not being able to move freely? My evil stepdad thought it was funny to hold us down until we would panic as children. Stop by when you get a chance!

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear NPSL,
Wow, that is really terrible that he did that. I'd call that "Abuse".
You are having a PTSD reaction. Feeling restricted or controlled will press on your trauma and trigger a series of PTSD responses. Again, I feel just so angry that he did this to you and your siblings.


Nurse Practitioners Save Lives said...

Thanks for the stop by Deb! I called it abuse also. One day I will write about it on my blog. I'm taking Family Abuse right now which is actually a Social Work class because there weren't any nursing classes this semester. I highly recommend it to any nursing, teacher, social work curriculum. It's amazing the amount of abuse that is being perpetrated out there. It's really sad.

stevie.be. said...

if i could get over my fear of heights and flying, life would be so much easier :)

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear NPSL,
What a great course you are taking. I often think courses like that should be taught in secondary schools so children can have an idea of what is good and what is bad and how to work within an abusive system.

Dear Stevie,
I hear you! I think I could wear the goggles and go into the VR world for MANY of my issues too. My life would be vastly easier!


Playground in my Mind said...

Hi there:) Of course you can use my post; I would be honored. I'm sorry that you are also a survivor, but you help so many. It took you down this path and it is good to know that we are not alone. Though at the same time, it is very sad, indeed.
Thank you for reading my blog. Yours provides great comfort to me. Thank you:) Renee

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Renee,
Thanks for you kind words. As you know, it is a life changing, but I guess we have managed to find a way to help others. I will use your post soon.

Peace to you and yours,

Bill Jones, Jr said...

Thanks for the info. I'm now wondering if there's a VR treatment for the fear of small animals. My ex-wife has BIG problems with this. She almost killed herself running from a baby rabbit once.