One trend we’ve seen coming out of these past several years of pandemic-induced stress and uncertainty is a growing appreciation for mental health, as well as a willingness to seek treatment for mental distress. The rise of electronic communications led to more access and novel approaches to seeking and getting this type of help, and a new study find virtual reality might be a great tool in this realm.
Why is VR therapy needed?
Around 30 percent of people found it easier to talk about negative experiences using a virtual reality headset rather than face-to-face, according to a study carried out by The Edith Cowan University (ECU). This result suggests a large chunk of the population may find it daunting to turn up to a face-to-face session with a therapist, meaning they are more likely to miss out on valuable life-saving and enhancing treatment.
A solution for these individuals may have just come about, thanks to a new paper published in Frontiers in Virtual Reality. The team created a realistic avatar using full face and motion capture technology, then conducted a therapy session in the virtual reality (VR) world. Participants had to rate their experience using factors such as; enjoyment, comfort, perceived understanding, awkwardness, and how much personal information they disclosed.
What were the results of the study?
“Overall people rated VR social interaction as similar to face-to-face interaction, with the exception of closeness, where people tended to feel a little closer with each other when face-to-face,” said Dr. Shane Rogers, psychology and communication researcher.
They continued: “The study found that 30 percent of people preferred disclosing negative experiences via VR. This means that therapy might be opened up to new people who don’t feel comfortable with traditional face-to-face interactions. It might also enable therapists to conduct therapy more effectively at a distance, as a person can be in the therapist room (in virtual reality) while seated in their own home.”
The future of VR therapy
The team is next looking to study how aspects of the avatar impact user experience. Hopefully, this technology can be applied in the upcoming future, with VR technology becoming more accessible, regarding cost and availability of equipment. The applications of this work span a wide range of areas like education, business, tourism, and more.
Source study: Frontiers in Virtual Reality – Realistic Motion Avatars are the Future for Social Interaction in Virtual Reality