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How virtual reality is helping patients conquer their fears

Technology has reached a point where it feels as if we are truly living in the future. A testament to that is the fact that virtual reality is on-track to receiving FDA approval for the treatment of a variety of anxiety disorders. 

Virtual reality is being used as a tool for exposure therapy, an active approach to psychotherapy in which a trained therapist helps patients identify negative or inaccurate thoughts, which occur in reaction to a variety of stimuli, in order to replace them with healthier responses. VR technology is greatly expanding a therapist’s capabilities in treating any number of disorders.

Whether a patient fears driving, needles, flying, or experiences PTSD due to a past traumatic event, VR technology allows a therapist to gradually expose the patient to situations involving their fears in order to confront them. Eventually, patients will be able to respond calmly to the most intense virtual reality experiences, like driving in heavy traffic at high speeds, while it’s raining or in the dark.

Throughout this entire process, the patient’s therapist is nearby, simultaneously watching and controlling what the patient sees via a connected tablet. While the patient moves through the virtual reality programs, the therapist will observe the patient’s response and provide strategies for correcting undesirable reactions. 

In over 300 peer-reviewed studies, VR technology has been shown to positively improve the outcomes of exposure therapy. In the near future, VR could help improve access to these cost-effective treatments, reduce reliance on medications which cause unpleasant side effects, and help as many patients as possible to live their best life.

This story was one of the best from 2019, and we are happy to include it in our “12 Days of Optimism” as we get ready to welcome 2020!

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