Virtual reality therapy is the use of computer-produced situations to make you believe and feel as though you are actually in a different place and situation. You may wear a helmet or goggles that contain a small video screen through which you see computer-produced images. When you move your head, the images on the screen change as they would in real life.
During virtual reality therapy, you can confront a feared object or situation or traumatic event while staying in a safe and comfortable place. A counsellor helps you talk about your feelings and thoughts throughout the experience, encourages you, and offers suggestions to help you deal with the situation or event. You will gradually be able to deal with the emotional and physical distress you feel and learn to handle your thoughts and feelings.
Virtual reality therapy has been successfully used to help people with:
Exaggerated fears (phobias). You can use virtual reality to confront a feared object or situation. For example, if you have a fear of heights, you can "virtually" walk across a bridge and look over the side, knowing all the time that you are still in a safe room.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You can use virtual reality to relive a traumatic event. For example, you can confront reminders of the traumatic event and talk about the emotional distress you experienced at the time of the event. It can also be used to safely experience and prevent potential problems from events that can have long-term trauma, such as war.
Some virtual reality therapy programs help with depression, quitting smoking, decreasing pain, sleeping better, and drug or alcohol problems.
ByHealthwise Staff Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine Donald Sproule, MDCM, CCFP - Family Medicine Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine Specialist Medical ReviewerLisa S. Weinstock, MD - Psychiatry Christine R. Maldonado, PhD - Behavioral Health