Virtual Reality & Mental Health: New Options for the Future

By: Alley Goodroad

By: Alley Goodroad

It is important to care for physical and mental health. Western culture continues a more open dialogue regarding the physical because the latter is still taboo in 2017. According to the Mental Health Foundation, one in four Americans experience mental health issues each year. Traditionally recognized methods of viable treatment include a mixture of psychological therapy, prescribed medication, and technology – now including – virtual reality (VR).

VR continues to make its mark entertainment, sports, and healthcare with no immediate sign of stopping in growth. By the end 2018, there will be 171 million active VR users. Healthcare practitioners are exploring how immersive experiences may address the mental trauma of a patient. For example, a simulation of a bustling, crowded shop may be the first steps a treatment of agoraphobia. Or, the looking down from the window of a building may treat vertigo. VR offers opportunity to simulate a situation with the intention of alleviating patient trauma.

To be clear, the medical world is not vying for VR to replace traditional therapeutic treatment, i.e. behavioral therapy or a medication regime. The technology is intended to be complementary to treatment. A VR experience engages the parts of the human brain responsible for the reactions to the world around us, including the Limbic System, the node for emotional behavior. Now, consider the novelty of a session between a patient wearing a VR headset and a therapist. Instead of recalling an experience, a patient actively walks through a situation with a therapist standing by versus recalling an experience from memory. And, with VR, there’s an immediate exit strategy: take the headset off.

Mental illness is a serious battle for many who struggle with the symptoms. It causes stress for those in non-virtual and virtual reality. As a forward-thinking tactic, VR offers a new reality to healthcare practitioners facilitating treatment.

Alley Goodroad is a tech geek and digital media strategist at heart. She consults for start-ups, mid-sized businesses, and Fortune 50 companies. Recently, the Houston Business Journal nominated Alley for a Top 40 Under 40 award to honor advances in the digital space. Her other hobbies include coffee-ing, running, and playing with Brooklyn (an adorable Shih Tsu).

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