Last week the Open Access journal “Frontiers in Psychiatry” published a Review Paper (free download here) that explores the scientific evidences related to the use of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in behavioral health.
The review, that summarizes the outcomes of all the systematic reviews and meta-analyses (28) available in the scientific literature, supports their use in the treatment of anxiety disorders, stress-related disorders, obesity and eating disorders, and pain management. But still, there is no clear good quality evidence for or against using VR for the treatment of depression and schizophrenia.
In most pathologies, VR is used as simulative tool for controlled exposure to critical/fearful situations. The possibility of presenting realistic controlled stimuli and, simultaneously, of monitoring the responses generated by the user offers a considerable advantage over real experiences. More, the possibility of designing targeted VR experiences with different difficulty levels – from easy performances to very difficult ones – offers an important source of personal efficacy.
However, the use of VR in pain management and in the treatment of obesity and eating disorders suggest a different rationale: VR can also be used as an embodied technology able to alter our experience of the body and space. If most VR applications to date have been used to simulate external reality, it is also possible to use VR for the simulation of our internal reality including the perception and ownership of our body.