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How VR is Helping Mental Health Professionals Deliver a Higher Standard of Care
VR simulations equip mental health professionals with the tools to create better patient outcomes
Healthcare | Training/Simulation | Article
4 min read
VR in mental health has become a leading tool for psychiatrists and their auxiliaries, who use it to create care programs that are more empathetic and more effective. Some patients perceive psychiatrists as having a lack of understanding about their condition that, coupled with treatment costs, is a considerable barrier care providers must overcome. With more empathetic and effective care, hospitals can eliminate those barriers, enabling them to treat a greater number of patients. Keep reading to discover how virtual reality technology is helping mental health practitioners toward that goal.
How Mental Health Professionals Are Using VR Today
The applications of VR technology in mental healthcare are as varied as the issues they seek to treat. Many doctors once relied on textbook descriptions of mental health issues to envision what their patients were experiencing, but VR allows them to see conditions for themselves, working through simulations that closely mirror the everyday issues their patients face. As a result, they form a deeper, more empathetic bond with patients experiencing psychological conditions such as schizophrenia.
For mental health patients, replicating anxieties and fears in a controlled, digital environment is an effective form of exposure therapy. The high-definition digital environments possible with VR technology like the VIVE XR Elite are so immersive they can conjure the same fear, anxiety, and joy people experience in reality. VR exposure therapy isn’t a full replacement for in vivo exposure, but it can be used where in vivo exposure is impractical, such as a fear of flying. Exposure therapy has been used to successfully treat mental health issues such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder  , which makes the accessibility of VR technology particularly useful.
Doctors aren’t relegating VR therapy to high-end medical institutions, either. With so many use cases, VR therapy platforms have become more common. For example, the MyndVR platform specializes in therapy programs for seniors, including reminiscence, distraction, and recreational therapy designed to improve vulnerable patients' mental health and self-esteem  .
HTC VIVE partnered with XRHealth to explore how VR enables a higher level of therapy. The case study covers the future of VR and how its adoption is shaping medical practices around the world. To see the full outcomes of the case study, download it here  .
The Major Benefits of VR in Mental Health Care
VR in mental healthcare has numerous benefits that aren’t found in traditional care settings. In addition to improving care outcomes (VR patients even reported a 24% drop in physical pain  ), virtual reality programs help address the ongoing shortage of mental health professionals. In 2021, 41.7 million Americans received mental health treatment in the last year  . However, only an estimated 106,500 psychologists are licensed in the United States  . That significantly burdens mental health professionals, limiting their ability to administer the proper care to their patients.
Medical practices can now use VR mental health apps to make up for the shortfall of psychologists. BehaVR is one such example. The program takes a science-first approach to behavioral therapy, helping patients address mental health issues such as addiction recovery, anxiety, and other forms of depression through VR treatment. Known as “telehealth,” these digital care programs are far more accessible than conventional care, especially for patients with busy schedules or those unable to travel to a medical office.
Healthcare professionals trained with VR technology also tend to have better recall and mastery of certain job functions. The United Kingdom’s National Health Service partnered with Virti to research the effects of VR training in the medical field and found that it can boost post-training performance by 230%  . While that study wasn’t geared toward mental health, VR training has proven effective across industries. Mental health roles would likely find similar benefits.
How VR Will Improve Mental Health Care in the Near Future
Mental health professionals have discovered the floor of what’s possible with VR care, not the ceiling. For example, future iterations of VR care platforms may use AI-generated personal therapy sessions to customize patient care rather than a draw from a relatively limited catalog of pre-made therapeutic experiences.
Patients could address their phobias and conditions in virtual environments most conducive to their desired treatment outcome. A simple treatment asks patients to picture their “happy place,” a calming location where they feel carefree and relaxed. Rather than have patients imagine that setting, VR therapy programs could generate a representation of that location for them to visit.
VR treatment may also help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health in society. People are more likely to under-report mental health issues than they are other forms of health conditions  . By propagating the conditions for more widespread and accessible care, virtual reality may reduce or eliminate the stigma associated with mental health treatment.
Platform developers can contribute to the success of VR in mental health treatment by iterating on therapeutic software, while healthcare professionals can focus on adopting and implementing it. HTC VIVE has a comprehensive collection of resources designed to ease both parties' implementation and development processes. Contact us today for more information on how to get started.
 American Psychological Association - https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/exposure-therapy
 Healthcare IT News - https://www.cedars-sinai.org/blog/virtual-reality-offers-real-pain-relief.html