Medical Technology

Virtual Reality Making Progress in Depression Treatment

Virtual reality has been making positive strides in a variety of treatment areas for a while. Now a Japanese company is asking the question can people suffering from depression benefit from watching virtual reality scenarios in which actors portray characters coping with the condition?

This is the statement of Jolly Good, a Tokyo-based virtual reality startup that has presented the US version of its VRDTx program at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2022 Annual Meeting).

Katharine Larsson (RN, PhD) the clinical director of Boston Behavioral Medicine in Brookline, Massachusetts, said that “Using this as an addition for psychotherapy in the hopes of seeing an example of someone who is suffering from depression might be a useful tool.” Jolly Good is being assisted by Larsson and Amaro J.Laria, who is a BBM colleague.

VRDTx utilizes techniques that are derived from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Viewers wear goggles to see people in situations that are similar to depression.

One method commonly used in CBT is to create a detailed plan, Laria says. VRDTx users might observe a person who is depressed struggling to get out of bed, but then decide to take at least 10 minutes every day to walk, and then to be up the following day. The author says that virtual reality lets users see the person who is undergoing the intervention.

This program could be compared to hypnotherapy or imaginal therapy , where patients imagine themselves in a situation that could cause depression, and then visualize how they deal with it.

Larsson suggests that the program should be used mostly for homework. She suggests that the program can be used to improve the therapeutic relationship. “Using it to replace or replace the time with an psychotherapist, I don’t think it will ever achieve any real value.”

Utilizing virtual reality to treat mood disorders is not new, according to Preethi Premkumar PhD an instructor of senior level in psychology at London South Bank University, located in London, United Kingdom, who is not related to Jolly Good.

Premkumar is the first author of a study of the virtual reality program that is used to treat those who suffer from anxiety when speaking in public. The program shows the user’s performance before an audience and lets the user change the number of people in the audience and the audience’s reactions. Premkumar says that the program has received praise from users. “They felt that it encouraged them to begin public speaking more regularly.”

Because people with depression tend to be prone to focusing on specific situations and situations, virtual reality could be an alternative tool. Premkumar says that virtual reality is able to create these scenes and help people confront them without exposing them.

A recent review article uncovered numerous studies that utilized virtual reality to combat anxiety. Although only a few studies were focused on depression but the majority were positive.

Jolly Good sponsored a study similar to this, which was presented at the European Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies on September 17 2021. “Results suggest improvements in the scores of targeted patients with depression,” according to an abstract the company posted online. “VR was used in CBT for depression with no adverse effects, which proves that VR can be safely employed in a safe manner.” The company did not respond to a request to provide more information.

Larsson and Laria shared their experiences with Jolly Good, describing the steps required to make the transition to the United States. They suggested that actors should be more expressive emotionally. They should play more characters, including female bosses. Also, not all scenes need to be set in the workplace.

“In the US at least from our experiences, a lot of what patients suffering from depression talk about is just their private lives, their intimate relationship with their significant other or family members, and friends,” Laria says. “We gave them some topics that we felt would be most relevant for a US audience.

Larsson and Laria are consultants for Jolly Good. Premkumar reported no relevant financial interests.

Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2022 Annual Meeting.

Laird Harrison writes about health and science. His work has appeared in magazines, newspapers, on public radio, and on websites. He is currently working on a novel that explores alternate realities in physics. Harrison teaches writing at Writers Grotto. Visit him at lairdharrison.com or follow his Twitter account @LairdH.

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