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Natural Awakenings New York City

Virtual Reality May Change Mental Health Care

By now you’ve probably heard about the potential virtual reality has to disrupt all kinds of different industries. We’ve been told it’s going to change retail and real estate, alter trip planning, take over healthcare, and most of all transform gaming. To some extent, all of this may well be true. One of the most significant changes, however, may come in the realm of mental healthcare.

Before we get to that, however, it’s necessary to take a broader look at VR and the impact it’s having on society. So, let’s get to it!

Is VR Really “Here?”

2015 was supposedly the year VR arrived; 2016 was “The Year Of Virtual Reality,” at least if you believe countless articles online. And 2017 is fast becoming “The Year Virtual Reality Got More Popular,” or something like that. But has virtual reality actually “arrived” to the point that it makes sense to talk about how it’s going to transform our lives? Honestly, it probably hasn’t. In May of this year some fairly devastating charts were published indicating that people just aren’t interested in VR, at least not on the level you’d expect based on the coverage the devices get on tech blogs and the like. VR is here in the sense that the tech exists and the headsets are available – but not in the sense that it’s widely popular by any stretch of the imagination.

This may begin to change in the fall, however, at least in a way. Apple is angling to be the first company to make a form of virtual reality – specifically, augmented reality – available to a huge population. The company is working on a development platform that will bring AR experiences to phones, such that people can view virtual elements and environments through their phones. No extra equipment will be needed. This could make AR widely popular, and in doing so it could spark broader interest in VR.

Where Will It Catch On?

Apple’s augmented reality will probably mean that some of the first widely popular VR/AR experiences will be smaller ones. There will be interesting puzzles and games that appear right in front of us, and even animated stories that play out like live cartoons. Things of this nature are popular with Apple’s ARKit, and they’ll likely be hits right away.

As for VR, there are a few areas that make some sense for breakout popularity if and when people finally become interested in headsets. Virtual reality casino games are already beginning to emerge for one thing, and have a built-in fan base of millions of gamers around the world. The chance to play games like poker and slots in convincing VR environments could be breathtaking for a lot of those players. We also know that open world games are creeping slowly but surely toward VR adaptation, and if they work well they’ll doubtless be hits. So, while headsets aren’t catching on, there will likely be great experiences waiting for people once they do.

Does This Matter For Healthcare?

All of the above is worth mentioning in any discussion about VR, because it’s important to put the technology in context. Browsing news online you might be under the impression that VR headsets are flying off the shelves and new games and apps are being churned out constantly, and that’s just not the case. This is very much an emerging technology, at least regarding consumer appeal.

The good news is that it probably doesn’t really matter for healthcare. Because the technology has in fact arrived and is being used in all kinds of interesting ways, hospitals and health professionals can certainly get their hands on headsets and work on ways to use them for patient care. And that brings us to our main point….

Could VR Revolutionize Mental Healthcare?

For a number of reasons, mental health has become a more commonly discussed problem in recent years. The statistics are actually quite alarming as far as how many people suffer from mental health disorders, and sadly our care for these disorders is drastically insufficient. Discussing mental health issues can be frowned upon, and care can often be inadequate. But it’s now being suggested that virtual reality could be a game changer.

The clearest use is with regard to various phobias or anxieties, which account for a great deal of mental health issues. Previously, therapists would have to accompany patients to environments or situations that triggered anxiety, or else simply recommend that patients confront uneasy scenarios and report back to them. With VR, these kinds of scenarios can be simulated very realistically such that patients can confront them with a therapist present.

Additionally, VR can be used simply as a calming mechanism for people experiencing general anxiety, exhaustion, or even anger issues. Apps can be designed such that they basically assist in relaxation and mental focus, particularly with the help of a therapist.

This may well wind up being the most significant change that comes about as a result of VR’s emergence. And it may be effective regardless if the much-publicized headsets and games ever truly catch on.