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Virtual Reality – First Entertainment, Next Medicine

Virtual Reality to help with anxiety and trauma

Thanks to bold leaders like Dr. Albert “Skip” Rizzo, director of Medical Virtual Reality at the Institute for Creative Technology, Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT) is fast becoming a go-to tool in the therapist’s toolbox for treating anxiety and trauma.

Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT), a method of psychotherapy, uses virtual reality technology to treat patients with anxiety disorders and phobias. VRT is not new.  Psychologists have been exploring the use of VR since the 1990’s. However, heretofore high technology costs and complex user interfaces have prohibited widespread use.   Fortunately, the competitive marketplace drives continuous innovation resulting in opportunities for broader application.

“Finally, the technology has caught up with the vision in this area, and I expect it to really take off in the next year,” Rizzo says. Rizzo turned a bold idea into bold action to develop Bravemind, an application used to treat PTSD. Bravemind is comprised of 14 virtual “worlds” that immerse patients in an environment simulating the original trauma. Using a treatment called “exposure therapy,” the patient repeatedly relives the experience as a therapist helps him/her process it. These cycles of confronting and processing the trauma assist the brain in reducing anxiety levels.

Using virtual reality technology to treat patients with anxiety disorders and phobias

In the US, nearly 8 million adults have PTSD during a given year. Worldwide, the figure is a staggering 223 million. The condition can occur after someone experiences extreme trauma—a terrifying event or ordeal that a person has experienced, witnessed, or learned about (e.g., war, disaster, or physical abuse).

Moreover, mental disorders affect up to 450 million people worldwide, and depression alone is one of the leading causes of disability. The vast majority of these people do not have access to adequate treatment if any at all. The economic impact on the global economy is an estimated US $2.5 trillion per year, an amount that is expected to increase to US$6 trillion by 2030.

“My mission is to drag psychology kicking and screaming into the 21st century,” Rizzo says.  Bravemind, developed in partnership with Virtually Better, is now sold to institutions around the world.

Treating PSTD with Virtual Reality to heal trauma has demonstrated the power of an innovative, cost-effective tool that can have a bold impact on global mental health and the global economy.

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