Virtual reality or VR, headsets are gaining a lot of popularity in the gaming industry, as they offer the ultimate gaming experience to gamers. The technology is also being embraced in the medical industry as a therapeutic tool.

VR in medical industry is being used for treating mental health of patients. The technique involves putting patients in several simulated situations, which are designed to assist them in dealing with their problems.

Many counselors, therapists as well as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have approved VR for treating people with various phobias, depression and substance abuse.

"Virtual reality offers the promise of a fundamentally new way to treat certain psychiatric disorders," says Elias Aboujaoude, a Stanford University psychiatrist.

Aboujaoude explains that many people have fear of snakes, traveling in an aeroplane and more. VR can be used to simulate situations, which can be difficult or impossible to replicate in real life. Patients can get rid of their phobias by encountering the situations in the virtual world. The process is called exposure therapy.

VR has also been effective in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by allowing war veterans to safely confront actual field-like situations. Therapists have also found VR can be a great way of teaching autistic adults and children in understanding some social cues.

Exposure therapy has proven to be more affective for people with anxiety and phobias in comparison to other treatments. However, about 25 percent of all patients reject using the therapy.

A previous study found that 27 percent of 150 patients studied disallowed exposure therapy. However, the rate was just 3 percent when exposure therapy was conducted in the virtual world.

Only few researches back the effectiveness of VR for treating mental disorders; however, therapists suggest that the technique still has a lot of potential especially in treating fear of spiders, public speaking, flying, height and more.

Currently, VR-based treatments are only available via some licensed therapists. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate VR software. With increasing demand in VR treatment companies may sell VR software and devices directly to consumers.

Scott Lowe, a spokesman for Psious - a startup that offers psychological treatments based on VR - says that the company is hoping for the day to arrive when they can sell their products directly to end consumers. However, a therapist will still be involved in the treatment.

Lowe explains that getting to a therapist's office can be difficult for many people on a regular basis. Psious products can be potentially used at home as a stopgap.

Photo: Nan Palmero | Flickr

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