Virtual reality exposure therapy could help people battling mental illness

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LANSING, Mich. (WLNS)— Virtual reality is a well-known tool to help people escape this world and go to a desirable place. Although, this tool has helped individuals go on vacation amid the pandemic, exercise, and even learn a new language by creating an avatar it’s being used to target mental health problems.

Jonah Magar, a virtual reality coordinator at Michigan State University’s library, helps students understand virtual reality before they go overseas for study abroad programs. Mager also teaches how this tool could be useful for everyday activities, like, having a virtual personal trainer for exercise.

Mager states an individual can utilize a virtual reality set by using a computer. Usually, There are headphones, special gloves, some kind of control mechanism, or in some cases people can use their naked hands. All of these pieces of equipment work together to stimulate your senses in order to create the illusion of reality.

“So, with the way these devices work you see these cameras in the corners here that maps to the room,” Mager said, “and are able to tell how you move and how far you move, and what direction you move.”

Therefore, every sensation a person can feel, hear, and see feels like it’s real-life. Dr. Anatol Tolchinsky is the Director of medical education for McLaren Greater Lansing, and also is a clinical health psychologist. Dr. Tolchinsky says health experts can utilize virtual reality exposure therapy to help in their fight against PTSD, certain phobias, anxiety, and people suffering from other addictions.

“When we have the appropriate coping strategies and we face our fears they start to have less of an effect on us,”Dr. Tolchinsky suggested, “a term that we use in psychology is desensitization. We are less sensitive to the stimulus or whatever is making us scared or anxious.”

He says when people interact with virtual reality it can place them in the flight, or fight stage to help individuals overcome their mental-health issues firsthand. Dr. Tolchinsky also says this tool works as therapy when a person slowly becomes exposed to their fear.

“You can start with a picture of a mouse, or talk to them about a mouse and ask them where their stress or anxiety level is,” Dr. Tolchinsky stated, “and then do coping strategies like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness techniques, and then ask them where their stress level is usually if it works it’s lower.”

This version of coping with anxiety, fears, PTSD, and other phobias is safe. Dr. Tolchinsky says health experts know it’s working when they ask their patients their stress-level before and after a treatment. If you want to try virtual reality exposure therapy Dr. Tolchinsky recommends contacting a clinician, and doing some research on the clinic first. He says this type of therapy is usually uncommon.

“You can’t just go to a mental health clinic and expect vr treatment often these kinds of treatments are in specialized facilities, Dr. Tolchinsky said. “A person can do this kind of intervention from home and it could be run by a clinician in another place, and especially with COVID-19, and all the worries that come with exposure to the pandemic this is still can be really helpful.”

Most importantly, Dr. Tolchinsky suggests to be extremely careful before starting this type of therapy.

“There are always limits and often anything in excess can become problematic,” Dr. Tolchinsky suggested.

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