VR for good: Can VR tech help us overcome our deepest fears & struggles?

VR for good: Can VR tech help us overcome our deepest fears & struggles?

I’ve never really been a fan of fear and pain. I tend to think they sort of get in the way of less scary and less agonising things. But hey, that’s just me.

Luckily, as the VR industry blooms, the extent to which virtual reality experiences can assist in overcoming phobias – and even physical and psychological pains – is now being realised.

What this means for our collective future is mostly hypothetical – and perhaps only incremental in its magnitude – yet for the individual, in both the long and short term, this can only be a good thing.


How does it work?

Essentially, there are two key approaches. For fears and phobias, it is mostly through measured exposure. For pain and anxiety, it can also be distraction.

Let’s start with pain and anxiety and move on to our deepest fears. Because what the heck.

How can VR combat pain & anxiety?

Companies such as Firsthand Technology are fast developing ways for patients to remove themselves from their pains and stresses via VR experiences.

The techniques focus on distracting the patient from their pain by placing them into new worlds constituted of pleasant landscapes, bright colours and a generally stimulating phenomenology – Here’s a glimpse…

This kind of VR therapy is quickly gaining the traction and funding it requires to become mainstream in the medical profession, with reports so far indicating that its effectiveness as a pain-relief is potentially twice that of morphine.

To date, with more than a decade of research pointing to the fact that ‘VR can have a significant impact on brain activity, enhance mindfulness, and reduce the need for drugs’ (firsthand.com), now that effective products are surfacing on the market, the ways in which we treat everything from short-term pain, chronic pain, anxiety and mental illness is surely worth readdressing, with potentially industry-changing results to be had.

With that being said – watch this space/realm/wonderland.

Right, let’s move on to…

How can VR combat our worst fears and phobias?

A phobia, for those who do not have it, can seem quite silly. Be that spiders, heights, public speaking, flying, the dentist, the dark, small spaces or all those pesky meddling CLOWNS. Yet no matter how silly it may seem, for the phobia-stricken the fear is very real and potentially very restrictive.

Luckily then, VR is offering the phobia-ridden the opportunity to overcome their fears on their own and in their own time.

It’s common knowledge – especially amongst the phobia-clad – that to overcome a fear, you need to confront it. Put simply, virtual reality experiences of this kind are a way to confront fears without any real-world consequences, offering gradual desensitisation to the stimulus of the fear at hand.

Time to get specific…

How can VR help overcome trauma?

While some pains and anxieties require distraction therapy, there are those that can be gradually overcome through exposure therapy.

PTSD and similar traumas can be tackled head on with customised programs that work to desensitise the user to the associated triggers.

How can VR help defeat arachnophobia?

Invented in response to this common fear and now a leading company in this part of the VR industry, is Fearless who have successfully taken advantage of the increasing availability of VR headsets, to popularise therapeutic experiences as a way of fully overcoming common phobias.

The user incrementally works their way through increasing levels of exposure that work to desensitise against the triggers you usually struggle with. So far, the results of the tech are quick and lasting, with the company now making promising moves into other areas of fear-reduction via VR.

VR for public speaking…

I am terrible at public speaking. Thus, I write. Thus, Zarathustra perhaps learnt to speak because he had access to state of the art VR technology that gave him the confidence to talk confidently in front of large groups of people.

This VR tech – part of Samsung’s #BeFearless campaign – is such a good example of how VR can offer huge change to an individual’s life, that I’d happily shout it from the rooftops if I dared. Which I don’t. But you get the idea…

VR for vertigo…

If you’re able to look down you’ll see a link to a VR experience that – if you have a fear of heights – may put you on edge. See if you can stomach it. If not, you may need to embark on some exposure therapy.

Ultimately, the potential of virtual reality lies both in its micro and macro functionality. The specific examples I have discussed here may be small on the VR scale, but the difference they are able to make in the lives of the individuals suffering from anxiety, or those restricted from fears, is so far proving to be huge, and will only continue to do so long into the future.

Pebble Studios
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