Sunday, June 13, 2021

Virtual reality therapy plunges patients back into trauma. Here’s why some people swear by it.

Virtual reality therapy products offered directly to the consumer remain scarce for the time being, and only a few are covered by insurance. Companies that sell software for VR therapy often say that their products should be used explicitly only in the presence of a clinician. Experts such as Andrew Sherrill, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Emory University in Atlanta who specializes in virtual reality therapy, are concerned that people seeking treatment may try out a program for themselves and not consult a therapist. not. They may shake off the treatment after getting no results or worsen trauma symptoms. “This is the closest thing our field has to just making opioids available over the counter,” he said.

“VR is not going to be the solution,” said Jonathan Rogers, a researcher at University College London, who studied the number of anxiety disorders during the pandemic. “It may be part of the solution, but it will not age medicine and formal therapies.”

Virtual reality treatments are not necessarily more effective than traditional long-term exposure therapy, said Dr. Sherrill said. But for some patients, VR offers convenience and can immerse a patient in scenes that will be difficult in real life. For some people, the treatment may mimic video games they already know. There is also a dual awareness among patients using virtual reality – the images on the screen are almost lifelike, but the headset itself functions as proof that it is not real.

Months after the terrorist attacks on September 11, dr. Difede and dr. Hunter Hoffman, the director of the Virtual Reality Research Center at the University of Washington, tested virtual reality treatments in one survivor with acute PTSD, one of the first reported applications of the therapy. Dr Difede said the first time the patient wore the headset started crying. “I never thought I would see the World Trade Center again,” she told Dr Difede. After six hours of sessions, the patient has a 90 percent decrease in PTSD symptoms. Dr. Difede tested later VR exposure therapy in war veterans in Iraq; 16 out of the first 20 patients no longer met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD after completing the treatment.

At the University of Central Florida, a team called UCF recovery is building trauma therapies using VR that allow clinicians to control the level of detail in a simulation, to the color of a bedspread or a TV that can be clicked on or off to make traumatic memories easier. The program offers free trauma therapy, which uses VR regularly, to Florida residents and focuses on treating PTSD.

Dr. Deborah Beidel, a professor of psychology and executive director of UCF Restores, expanded the treatments beyond imagery, by adjusting sounds and even smells to create an augmented reality for patients.

Jonathan Tissue, 35, a former Marine, sought treatment at UCF Restores in early 2020 after speech therapy and medication failed to relieve his PTSD symptoms, which include flashbacks, anxiety and moodiness. Finally, it was the odors pumped into the room as he described his military service to a clinician that helped unlock his memories. There was the stench of burning tires, diesel fumes, the smell of rotting bodies. He hears the sounds of firearms. His chair rumbles thanks to the simulated vibrations of the center.

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