BY JENNY LIDDLE, CONTENT MARKETING MANAGER
Imagine if you could be your own therapist, and solve ALL of your problems. All by yourself, without any professional help. But how could such a phenomenon even be possible? Enter Virtual Reality Therapy.
There is so much more to Virtual Reality or VR than accessing the Metaverse, building virtual real estate, visiting the meta-superstore, and purchasing NFT collectibles.
VR can introduce us to innovations like virtual reality exposure therapy and mindfulness meditation that provide us with the tools to confront our anxieties, phobias, and disorders, and realize the steps that we need to take to improve our mental health.
With Virtual Reality, we have the capability to create scenarios where we can experiment and explore various phenomena of the mind.
You’re probably thinking that Virtual Reality therapy sounds too good to be true. So can Virtual Reality be the new therapy? The answer to finally facing our inner demons? Let’s delve deeper…
One of the wonders of Virtual Reality is Virtual Embodiment. This is where the user feels totally immersed in a Virtual Environment. Essentially, they feel fully present within the Virtual Reality itself. Now, we can take this scenario one step further. Imagine if the illusion extended so that the viewer even identified with their avatar inside the virtual world despite the absence of a physical body. This magic is what we term virtual embodiment.
This phenomenon is also known as Homuncular Flexibility, where the human mind can be tricked into conceptualizing a virtual body as its own physical body.
Through the wonders of Virtual Reality technology, we can construct situations where we can investigate the depths of our minds in a controlled experiment-esque environment. Creating scenarios for the viewer to have another perspective on themselves, provides the space and opportunity for self-reflection.
Virtual Embodiment is the key to not only gaining a better understanding and perspective on our self-consciousness but also on how our body and mind interact with each other, providing us with new perspectives on ourselves, and our mental health.
In virtual THERAPY with Freud
Our ideas, our thoughts are essentially our qualia, which is our subjective experience of both our inner and external worlds. Our qualia is unique to each of us.
In other words, the inner workings of our consciousness, our thoughts, exist only in our minds. They are a reality that is subjective. But with Virtual Reality, we can perceive this inner reality as external and objective too. We have the tools to perceive our thoughts as a reality outside of ourselves.
Let’s take this further. Now imagine you can have a conversation with Dr. Sigmund Freud himself. Yup that’s right, there’s even a VR application for experiencing this interaction!
You begin by visualizing a virtual body of yourself sitting in a chair across from Sigmund Freud. This virtual body responds to your movements and speech, so much so that you even identify as it. Here, you are experiencing human embodiment.
You then begin to speak to Sigmund Freud, opening up to him about your problems, offloading your traumas and deepest fears.
Next, everything fades into darkness. Then you find yourself embodied as Freud himself. And you are now looking at the avatar that is you. This avatar begins to speak and you hear a recording of your heartfelt monologue that you uttered only moments before.
You are now viewing yourself from outside of yourself. Here, you have been provided with the means of viewing yourself while embodied elsewhere in this Virtual Reality. You have become your very own psychologist.
When it comes to the problems of others, we are usually adept at taking a step back from the situation at hand and considering different options and perspectives. When we’re outside of the problem, we can give valuable advice. But when it comes to our own problems, not so much. We can become so wrapped up in our own emotions that we struggle to be objective. And naturally, our inner voices are more self-critical to ourselves than towards others.
The tools of Virtual Reality and experiencing virtual embodiment can provide us with the means to view the self as other, to detach and to step outside of ourselves. Instead of speaking to a therapist or psychologist, we can benefit from such experiments to confront our issues and work through them.
Facing your demons with VR
Now, let’s immerse ourselves even deeper down the rabbit hole of Virtual Reality therapy.
Studies show that Virtual Reality may even help mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, where one experiences recurring psychosis episodes.
Virtual Reality creates a type of half-reality for the subject, a world that plays between the objective real world and the fictitious virtual world. In many ways, schizophrenia can feel similar. Those living with schizophrenia experience a reality that dances between the two worlds of reality and fictitious, and are unable to decipher between reality and illusion.
Where does Virtual Reality come in then?
Schizophrenia sufferers live with voices in their heads, inner demons commanding them what to do. Virtual Reality provides the means for the subject to perceive these voices as a form outside of themselves, and to finally confront them.
In one experiment, psychiatrist and researcher Alexandre Dumais created a project where schizophrenia patients could visualize their demons through Virtual Reality.
Patients were asked to describe their demon to a design technician, and through VR headsets, would come face to face with a virtual embodiment or avatar of the demon (created for the purposes of the experiment). Then the subject would conceptualize what the demon may say to them.
Confronting your demons may sound like your worst nightmare. But this experiment forced the subjects into a scenario where they had no choice but to face their demons and fight back.
Just think of the opportunities here. Certainly, experiments of this nature open the door for assisting with other mental health conditions including PTSD which is more prolific than you may expect.
Virtual Reality can even treat phobias since the subject can visualize and face their phobia in a controlled and safe virtual environment. For example, if you were afraid of heights you would be cast into virtual environments standing on the edge of cliffs or skyscrapers.
Stats show that 70% of adults will experience at least one traumatic event in their life, and 20% of those will develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But with Virtual Reality, subjects can recreate the scenario of their trauma, and confront it in a safe environment. This experiment can be repeated until the anxiety disappears.
The Power of Self-Therapy
What does the future hold? The potential of self-therapy through Virtual Reality is immense.
Immersive Virtual Reality gives us the power to create a safe virtual environment where we can visualize our demons outside of ourselves and confront them virtually face on until we finally defeat them. Through VR tools and technology, we are able to step outside of ourselves, to examine the inner workings of our minds, and essentially act as our own therapist.
It doesn’t end there. Virtual Reality has already been effective in helping those struggling with eating disorders, alcohol addiction, and substance abuse problems. In the gaming world, games developers are creating video games that can help conditions like ADHD.
There are even headsets that help you train your mind, just like you train your body. Mendi have developed headsets to use at home, which measure brain activity using light to analyze blood flow in your brain. With Mendi, you can visualize exactly what your brain is doing as if it were a mirror and train your brain. The benefits? Mendi can help with mental clarity, reduce anxiety, and improve sleep.
There are so many developments in Virtual Reality that are taking off right now. Virtual Reality gives us the means to create a world that we can perceive as real, and interact with, as if it were real. And the opportunities of what we can create are endless.
With Virtual Reality, perhaps we really can become our own therapist…