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How Virtual Reality Is Being ­sed to Deliver Mental Health Care

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person wearing virtual reality headset

Researchers at the University of Oxford use virtual reality to help people deal with difficult social situations such as encountering crowds.

Credit: University of Oxford

Scientists around the world are starting to use virtual reality (VR) technology as part of mental health care. So far, the main use of VR has been in the area of exposure therapy for phobias and anxieties, according to Greg Wadley at Australia's University of Melbourne. For example, Wadley says commercially available VR headsets can put users in front of a virtual crowd, enabling them to confront their fear of public speaking in a controlled environment.

Wadley also is working with a youth mental health clinic to develop VR treatments for young people suffering from psychosis and depression.The technology is designed to be used with the guidance of professionals, and Wadley says VR can help people overcome the two main limitations of in-person therapy — cost and accessibility.

Meanwhile, University of Oxford researchers in the U.K. are helping people with paranoia deal with difficult social situations such as encountering strangers in crowded spaces. "Patients who fully tested out their fears in virtual reality were later much less distressed even when in a real-world situation, such as going to the local shop," the Oxford researchers note.

From Australian Broadcasting Corporation
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