Virtual reality (VR) technology has been growing in popularity in the last decade and more industries are starting to use it.
One of these industries is the field of therapy. Some doctors and therapists have started using VR technology with patients. A few of the ways it is being used is for calming techniques for anxiety and stress, and for exposure therapy.
For people with phobias, an irrational fear of something specific, such as arachnophobia for fear of spiders and claustrophobia for fear of tight spaces, one of the best treatments to help people overcome this fear is by exposing them to it in a controlled environment.
VR technology allows this to be done very safely, where the patient does not need to actually experience it in real life, but uses the VR to simulate it.
Dr. Virgo Handojo, professor of psychology, talked about the effectiveness of virtual and augmented reality technology in exposure therapy.
“For people with phobias, they can use the augmented reality technology,” Handojo said. “They can download, for instance, on their own phone, and then they can see insects crawling all over their body. It’s not real insects, but it’s very powerful.”
Jeremiah Seaman, sophomore mechanical engineering major, said he thinks exposure therapy would be a good use for VR technology, providing a safer environment for people to confront their fears.
“They can just take off the glasses and not actually have to worry about being there, doing something,” Seaman said. “As long as it helps, I think it’s good.”
Kasey Alcala, freshman business major, said she could see using VR technology for calming stress.
“I have used (VR before), but usually for games,” Alcala said. “But it’s really cool because for the one I was playing, it was a nice environment and it did make me feel more calm. I think that’s a really nice thing about our advanced technology. I could do that.”
Alcala also said she thinks VR would be useful for exposure therapy because the controlled environment would make it more comfortable.
“Since it’s like virtual reality, I think it’s better than actually running around with real spiders because that’s gonna be an easier environment to control, because you could just take them off,” Alcala said. “Then it’ll be over instead of just having them all over.”
Another way that VR is being used is through virtual meeting spaces, presenting a more immersive experience than other forms of virtual meetings , such as video chat, over the phone or through text-based communication.
Handojo said that while this technology is useful, it is still just a tool and it matters how people use it.
“Overall, this is only a tool, an instrument,” Handojo said. “Instruments have limits, and you also need to know how to use that instrument rather than just how to do it.”