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Using Virtual Reality In Panic Disorder Therapy

Virtual reality therapy uses virtual environments designed to support exposure of common anxiety disorders.

Exposing the patient to an anxiety provoking virtual environment is more realistic than having the patient imagine the environment, and more controlled than exposing the patient to the actual environment.

The virtual environment is controlled by the therapist, allowing the therapist to manipulate situations to best suit the individual patient, and is designed specifically for use within the confines of a therapists office, during a standard therapy hour.

Virtual experience is an “empowering environment” that therapy provides for patients.


Patient Response To VR Therapy

With the assurance that in the VR environment, nothing can ‘actually’ happen, the patients feel more confident to freely explore, experiment, feel, live, and experience feelings and/or thoughts. VR therapy is a very useful intermediate step between the therapist’s office and the real world. Using VR therapy, the patient is:

  • likely to feel more secure, better enabling the patient to express thoughts and feelings that are otherwise too difficult to discuss.
  • able to gain an awareness of his or her need to change and to experience a greater sense of personal efficacy.

VR therapy has been shown to foster a positive therapeutic alliance and as a catalyst for a broader empowerment process in three dimensions:

  • Perceived control: beliefs about authority, decision-making skills, availability of resources, and autonomy in the scheduling and performance of work.
  • Perceived competence: role-mastery requiring the skilful accomplishment of one or more assigned tasks, also requires successful coping with non-routine role-related situations.
  • Goal internalization: captures the energizing property of a worthy cause or exciting vision provided by the organizational leadership. VR therapy is a special, sheltered setting where patients can start to explore and act without feeling threatened.

VR therapy can be employed as a supportive technique at the onset of treatment to gain confidence or used in the course of treatment should a crisis occur, assisting the patient to overcome the set back.


VR Hardware Requirements

To run the virtual reality therapy simulations, the following hardware is required:

  • 3D Head Mounted Display
  • Head Tracker
  • 3D Controller

How These Components Work

The VR image is projected into the 3D Head Mounted Display. Movements of the head are tracked in real time with the Head Tracker.

The 3D Controller is used by the patient to move forwards, backwards and side to side in the virtual environment.

Virtual Reality Environments

Virtual Realities Inc provide four free virtual environments for Panic Disorders that can be download and used:

  1. Open space –central town square
  2. Underground space – subway
  3. Closed space – elevator
  4. Busy space – supermarket

To find out more about using these virtual reality environments to treat panic disorders, see the Virtual Realities Inc website.

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