Virtual reality games and videos captured the gadget market some years back and youngsters go crazy over these stuff in today’s world. Virtual reality (VR) is a scenario created artificially using software and presented to the user such that he/she believes it to be a real environment. VR makes it possible to experience anything, anywhere, anytime. Sound and sight are the two most-used sense organs while experiencing this virtual reality with the use of headsets, props or multi-projected environments that helps the individual experience the happiness of the artificial world, look around it and interact with virtual features.
Psychotic disorders are severe mental disorders that cause abnormal thinking and perceptions. Such people are far away from reality as they are always affected by delusions and hallucinations. Delusions are believing things that are not true and hallucinations are hearing or seeing things that are not present, hearing voices or feeling something that is not there.
Schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, substance abuse disorders, brain tumors, stroke and brain infections can cause psychotic symptoms. Read more on these diseases and disorders at www.firsteatright.com. Individuals with psychotic disorders are under constant paranoia and mostly avoid social situations due to utmost suspicion or anxiety. A group of researchers focused on such patients and have found that adding virtual reality cognitive behavioral therapy alongside medications as treatment for psychotic disorders can help reduce anxiety and paranoia.
The first group were asked to step into a computer-generated underground train carriage and a lift. This study helped the patients overcome fear of their situations and feel safe. One group was told to react in the normal way and avoid eye contact as a defense strategy while the other group was advised to lower their defense and try accepting that they were safe from the computer characters by standing toe-to-toe or staring at them. The second group who were asked to outgrow their fears showed substantial reduction in their paranoid delusions while the first group saw a small reduction in delusions.
The research team found that almost 1-2% of population have severe paranoia at some point in their lives and find it difficult to leave the comfort of their home due to their heightened sense of mistrust.
Individuals who were subjected to the underground virtual reality tube train session commented that they were devoid of any fears travelling by lift or tube trains after their VR sessions.
CBT is a widely used form of psychotherapy that combines cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy. The underlying principle behind CBT is that feelings, thoughts and behaviors are interlinked and influence well-being. CBT differs from other traditional forms of psychotherapy in that CBT focuses on the current problem at hand and solutions to solve it rather than digging into the past problems.
Another study showed that 90% of people with psychosis assume that people around them exist to constantly harm them and hence, try to avoid other people’s company as much as possible. They either stay alone spending time by themselves or just have one or two friends.
The researchers divided people with similar psychotic disorders into two groups-one (intervention group) received the usual treatment along with VR CBT and the other group (waiting list control group) continued to receive only the usual treatment plan. Altogether there were 116 participants and 58 participants were assigned to each study group. All participants underwent assessment at the start of the study, 3 months after completion of the CBT treatment and once again at the end of 6 months. Assessment included perceived social threat, quantity of time people spend with others socially, anxiety and momentary paranoia.
There were altogether 16 VR CBT sessions with each session lasting for an hour over a 12-week period. Individuals were exposed to 4 different VR scenarios (bus, street, café and store). The scenario was customized for every participant and evoke situations which triggered fear or paranoid thoughts. The avatars present in these VR scenarios, their reaction to the participants and even their appearance was controlled by the research group.
Although there was no difference at the 3-month assessment, considerable social interaction and improvement could be found at the end of the 6-month assessment period. The result also showed that individuals in the VR CBT group showed reduced paranoia and anxiety at the end of both 3-month and 6-month assessment compared to the CBT group. There was no difference found in perceived social threat score between the two groups.
This shows that VR CBT can become a successful treatment form for psychotic disorders. Before that, much more research on its long-term effects is needed to clearly prove its advantage over widespread clinical use.
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