Virtual Reality May Help People Manage Eating Disorders

Some games now support Virtual Reality (VR) technology, which offers players an immersive gaming experience.

Now a group of researchers have used VR as a potential tool for treating eating disorders. They believe VR can reduce the anxiety and anxiety people experience in therapy and allow them to open up to their therapist.

Exposure therapy

In a study published in the Human-Computer Interaction Journal, the researchers used “virtual reality exposure therapy”. Exposure therapy is a common behavioral therapy used to treat anxiety and fear by exposing the person to the object of fear or fear. The idea is that VR can make it easier to go through therapy.

Both the study participants and the researchers were equipped with VR head-mounted displays. They were introduced to each other in the virtual world. The participants created and adapted their avatars to their own appearance. They could change the physical characteristics of their avatars such as body shape and size, hair color, and skin tone. Therapists acted as themselves in virtual form.

All were “teleported” into a virtual environment. The virtual environment had two worlds that created a mirror exposure. The mirror exposure served as a confrontation between the therapy participants and their body images.

The therapists asked participants to check and make adjustments to every part of their avatars’ bodies. They were asked to describe their thoughts, feelings, and worries over time.

Participants edited their own avatars as their sessions progressed and became more open, to the point where the avatars were only wearing their underwear.

After the sessions, the participants stated that they were not afraid of a negative judgment from the therapist, possibly because they felt that their personal space was respected. The unique experience in virtual worlds could motivate people to deal with healthcare professionals.

VR in mental health

Another study published in The Lancet Psychiatry showed the potential of VR in treating fear of heights. Those treated with VR technology had lower levels of anxiety compared to other participants. The positive effects of the treatment even persisted in follow-up, prompting the authors to endorse the potential benefits of VR in mental health management.

Patients with mental health problems can have a variety of symptoms, making it difficult to diagnose. However, a study in the Psychological Medicine Journal showed how helpful VR can be.

The authors reviewed 285 studies that included theory development, treatment, anxiety, eating disorders, schizophrenia, and substance-related disorders. The consensus was that VR-based treatments could actually reduce anxiety disorders. The researchers found that as a mental health therapy, VR technology could help “transform the way people assess, understand, and manage mental health problems.” The catch was that VR should work optimally in combination with targeted treatment. This combined approach could reveal areas for possible improvements to VR systems designed for mental illness.

VR allows the therapist to create a situation for the patient that would cause anxiety, fear, etc. in real life and that is completely controlled. In this way the therapist can coach the patient through the situation. These situations or simulations can be scaled according to the level of difficulty so that the patient can learn the correct reactions.

VR is a growing industry. There are several VR systems out there these days and people can easily buy VR headsets online. Some of these systems may be adopted by psychologists to give patients better access to VR-based treatments.

Ralph Chen is an enthusiast for medical topics and advanced technology. When he’s not writing, he spends a lot of time playing popular PC games.