Virtual reality (VR) exposure can be used to treat a number of anxiety and stress-related disorders, including fear of flying, fear of storms, fear of heights, fear of bridges, fear of public speaking and posttraumatic stress disorder. Virtual reality exposure therapy has been found to be an effective, cost-efficient treatment method for these types of disorders.
During VR therapy, people wear a virtual reality helmet that positions two goggle-sized miniature computer monitor screens close to the patient's eyes. The scenery in VR changes as the users move their head orientation (e.g. virtual objects in front of the user get closer as the user leans forward in the real world). The combination of these techniques gives patients a uniquely compelling experience of "being there" in the virtual world and contributes greatly to therapeutic success.
This therapy has several advantages:For those who are reluctant to engage in recollection of feared memories, VR provides a sensory-rich and evocative therapeutic environment, allowing them to experience a "sense of presence" in the virtual setting. VR technology allows for gradual exposure to increasingly feared situations that can be carefully monitored and tailored to the individual patient's needs. VR environments can be manipulated above and beyond the constraints of the everyday world, creating new possibilities for therapeutic action.
As a result, VR therapy can increase a person's feelings of self-efficacy and of being active agents of their own experience. Patients have often been found to be more willing to consider VR treatment than other forms of exposure therapy. The VR world does not include the same risks as returning to the actual feared environment, and patients can feel supported in knowing that the therapist viewing the virtual environment is sharing in their experience.