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Virtual Reality Treatment


Take Two Virtual Reality Games And See Me in the Morning

by Kenneth Lyen

We have explored the lands of the earth. We have explored the seas and oceans. We have even explored the moon, Mars, and Saturn’s rings. The last remaining unexplored frontier is the human mind. Finding out how our mind works is the next major challenge facing mankind.

Sigmund Freud gave us the concept of the subconscious. He also showed that psychotherapy, a form of treatment where talking to the patient and focusing on past events, can be used to treat certain psychiatric problems including neuroses and phobias. BF Skinner demonstrated that we can modify behaviour using operant conditioning, where a desired behaviour can be trained by linking it to a system of rewards or punishments.

Both psychotherapy and operant conditioning work by inducing biochemical changes within the brain. With the development of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans, the effects of psychotherapy and behavioural therapy can be monitored.

Recently there have been reports using virtual reality (VR) computer games to treat pain, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorders. By getting the subject to play selected virtual reality games, one can reduce the pain following a burn or during dental procedures. The game can also be used to treat phobias, including the fear of public speaking, fear of heights, and the fear of spiders. Victims surviving the World Trade Centre attack on 9/11 who suffer from a post-traumatic stress disorder can also be treated by virtual reality games. The responses before and after treatment are mapped out on functional magnetic resonance imaging. This confirms the changes are real, and probably reflect an underlying biochemical response to the treatment.

The precise mechanism of action is open to speculation. We believe that virtual reality games work in pain reduction by distracting the mind. They reduce phobias and post-traumatic stress disorders through operant conditioning.

We are just scraping the surface. Future potential for their use in other psychiatric disorders remains unexplored.

Hey, Nintendo, Sony and other VR game-makers, I’ve got this headache....