Answer 4 Common Questions from Patients about VR Therapy Effectively

It is common that mental health patients have questions about virtual reality therapy, but do you know how to respond? This article dives into some of the more FAQs and provides you with evidence-based answers! Virtual reality (VR) therapy is a breakthrough and exciting service to provide to mental patients. However, because it is not as well known as other lines of therapy, patients may have reservations about the technology in clinical practice and questions of its efficacy. We at Amelia Virtual Care can understand that the novelty of the therapeutic approach may make some patients hesitant at first. For that reason, we decided to gather some common doubts about VR therapy and provide you with evidence-based references to answer those questions confidently. 

1. Is virtual reality really more effective than other lines of therapy?

Virtual reality therapy is an effective line of treatment for various mental conditions, including social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, depression, OCD and more. For example, in a meta-analysis published in Nature Scientific Reports, investigators Fodor, Coteț, Cuijpers et al. examined the efficacy of VR interventions for anxiety and depression outcomes, as well as treatment attrition. The study comprised randomized controlled trials analyzing interventions, either alone or in combination, to control conditions or other active psychological interventions (e.g., waitlist, placebo, relaxation, routine treatment, etc.). A total of 39 trials were included, with approximately 52 comparisons. As observed with a 95% confidence interval, VR-based therapies were more effective than control at follow-up testing for anxiety and depression. Similarly, the use of VR therapy does not mean the complete absence of other treatment approaches. Quite the contrary. The combination of VR technology and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can enhance the effects of standard treatment. To illustrate, you need look no further than a study published in The Lancet Psychiatry by Dutch investigators Pot-Kolder et al. In this study, 116 patients with a psychotic disorder from different Dutch mental health centers were randomly assigned to a VR-CBT group and a waiting list control group. Findings revealed that in comparison with the control group, a significant reduction in momentary paranoid ideation and momentary anxiety was observed in the VR-CBT group. Additionally, such improvements were upheld when individuals were assessed in follow-ups. In all, VR therapy, especially in conjunction with other therapy approaches, offers great, potential benefits to mental care patients. 

Can I expect quick results with VR therapy?

2. Can I expect quick results with VR therapy? 

Results of any line of therapy will differ from one individual case to the next. It is important to understand that while VR therapy offers many benefits, it can be more effective in mental conditions when combined with other therapeutic approaches and post-session assignments. Depending on the condition, the number of VR therapy sessions needed can vary. For example, for individuals who aim to build mindfulness, eight sessions may suffice to explore the series of settings and strengthen skills that may be applicable long after therapy sessions finish. 

3. Is VR like playing a video game? 

Yes and no. On one hand, like video games, virtual reality finds stronger appeal in patients who engage their imagination to the furthest extent possible during sessions. The use of imagination helps to foster a sense of immersion, that is, to pull the patient away from the overall context and redirect attention (from anxiety, worries, etc.) elsewhere. In a separate article about VR therapy in children, virtual reality has been shown to resonate well with children for just this reason. When a child feels extremely anxious before surgery or is in deep pain during, for example, gauze wound dressing, VR technology can pull a child’s attention to a virtual, colorful world bursting with purple snakes or creative characters.Conversely, VR therapy differs from video games because of its technological capacity to enhance the sense of presence. In other words, when mental care patients use such technology, their ability to distinguish between the virtual world and reality is negligible. A conference paper by Spanlang et al. revealed that skin conductance, heart activity and respiration of test subjects underwent physiological changes in response to a virtual fire within a social setting.  In fact, test subjects were reported to respond with some degree of realism to the virtual setting, such as covering their eyes or stepping away from the fire. 

Can Virtual Reality be a Substitute for Real-Life Experiences?

4. Can Virtual Reality be a Substitute for Real-Life Experiences?

Various studies have shown that virtual reality can promote a sense of presence and trigger bodily responses similar to in vivo exposure. A popular example to highlight this point is VR therapy in substance use disorder (SUD).  For individuals who are trying to overcome drug addictions, exposure to certain cues in high-risk social settings can be detrimental to progress. It can also be difficult to train in patients with SUD via in vivo exposure for ethical purposes. However, VR therapy addresses such problem by inducing cue reactivity and physiological responses (thereby allowing therapists to work through these aspects in sessions) while conferring the added benefit of no exposure to an actual, high-risk scenario.If you are considering offering virtual reality as an additional service to your patients, please feel free to contact us. We would love to set up a demo session with you and speak about the many different programs and settings available.