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virtual reality therapy (VR therapy)

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Virtual reality therapy is the use of simulated interactive and immersive environments as a tool for physical or psychological healthcare applications. VR therapy has become more practical and affordable since the advent of virtual reality headsets and the proliferation of VR apps.

Applications of VR therapy include:

Phobias: The client can be guided through a simulated aversive environment with support from a therapist for desensitization to triggers.

Physical therapy: virtual reality applications can be used to train clients in movements designed to assist with various impediments and recuperation from injury. Examples include prosthetic training, recovery from repetitive stress injuries (RSI) and other physical trauma.

Strokes: VR training has proven results in assisting patient recovery from strokes and other physical trauma by stimulating neurons associated with activities as users virtually perform them. As a result, the patient may regain functionality that had been lost.

Paraplegia: Projects involving VR therapy and hardware devices found – to the surprise of researchers – that participants were able to regain some degree of sensation and muscle command. The initial goal was simply to give participants more sense of control in their lives but at the end of 10 months, some were able to initiate movement because of the neurotraining effect of the VR therapy.

Sports training: Virtual reality software allows players to experience training activities and “practice” without physical fatigue and the potential for injury.

Stress and anxiety: VR guided meditations provide an immersive environment that more closely replicates a therapeutic real-world experience for the user and, accordingly, has a more profound impact.

See a video about the use of virtual reality therapy for PTSD:

This was last updated in August 2016

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