A clinical psychologist by the name of Roos Pot-Kolder from the VU University of Amsterdam has recently begun subjecting her patients to therapy centered around virtual reality. One of her patients, named Edwin, suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. Using virtual reality simulations Pot-Kolder is able to subject Edwin to various scenarios where she can set a specific situation, the number of participants, as well as their stress and anger level.
All these simulations are aimed at helping people with paranoia to handle stressful situations. Virtual strangers can be as intimidating as real world people. For this exact reason, Edwin found simple daily activities exhausting. The fact that doctors can set the friendliness level of the avatars is of great help. Because of that, people can conquer challenges at their own pace. After about three months, public interactions become easier. Even speaking in front of audiences of 500 people or more can be set up in order for the patient to overcome their anxiety of performing in front of large crowds.
But this is not the first time scientists have used VR for something like this. Various tests have been performed from the early 1990s. Recent advancements in technology have really pushed the boundaries of what scientists can achieve, and the treatments are beginning to help more and more people. All these VR situations are set up to make patients face their worst fears. This is known as exposure therapy. With assistance from a therapist, the exposure desensitizes the patient to the fear and makes real world situations easier to cope with.
With the development of cheap VR systems in the future, these simulations may become the focus of many future treatments. Anything from schizophrenia to PTSD may eventually be treated by using VR. Testing has already begun on various methods to achieve this, and pretty soon this may become regular practice among psychologists and psychiatrist alike. VR treatments may also potentially erase the need for a human therapist which is highly beneficial for some disorders.