Virtual reality therapy is a very effective distraction method for temporary relief from pain or anxiety. Since pain requires our attention, anything which can redirect our attention away from pain can help provide us with temporary pain relief. Virtual reality therapy just may be the fastest way to redirect our attention short of cold water and getting slapped on the face.
Hypnosis and meditation are also considered effective methods by which to influence our conscious self-awareness, but VR therapy does more than just distract or influence our awareness; it allows us to desensitize the pathways in our brain which are trained for pain. By distracting ourselves within the worlds generated by virtual reality, our subconscious mind (the bodymind) can work to rewire things and create new pathways in the brain. The new pathways are reinforced by time spent within virtual reality as a therapy, using VR as a maximum-strength pain distractor.
VR Therapy Companies
- Virtually Better: Virtual Tools To Better Your Health
Virtually Better is a team of psychologists, designers, and software developers with over 20 years of experience developing evidence-based VR applications for phobias, substance use disorders, Skills Development, PTSD, and Stress & Pain Management.
- StoryUp VR | Data-driven Virtual Escapes Powered By Your Brain
StoryUP is a tribe of storytellers, psychologists, developers, filmmakers, audio engineers and technologists, who are creating dedicated VR experiences whereby feedback from your brain can control what you see.
- AppliedVR – The First VR Platform Designed for Healthcare
Our platform is transforming the patient experience in hospitals, surgery centers, and exam rooms across the country.
- DEEP VR – Deep Is A Meditative VR Game Controlled by Breathing
Virtual reality therapy fools the senses
The advantage of modern virtual reality (VR) is that it can quickly and thoroughly immerse us in another (fantasy) world. The depth of immersion can fool our senses, including our vision, hearing, and sense of balance, plus sometimes even our sense of touch. While the exact reasons behind VR’s ability to trick our brain continues to be studied, we don’t need to understand brain science to make it work wonders for our pain. It can almost instantly change the perception of our pain and is a remarkably effective method which makes us forget our pain is even there.
VR doesn’t just give us something to occupy our mind, it provides us with an entire experience which fools our senses!
If you already have an HTC, Samsung, or Android smartphone, you’ll be able to get into mobile VR using your phones. PlayStation and Gaming PC owners have higher performing machines for the best VR experiences at home. Xbox does not currently offer a VR headset.
VR therapy as behavioral augmentation
The science behind how we can consciously fool our brains and senses with VR is fascinating, but experiencing it is even more amazing. When combined with the fact we can rewire our brains just by changing our thought patterns (https://bebrainfit.com/brain-plasticity/), then VR becomes a mental healthcare game-changer.
Employing VR technology to augment ourselves, we can improve intelligence and awareness, and interrupt our habitual thinking processes. VR allows us to interrupt the incessant catastrophizing we tend to do when our chronic pain and anxiety has us feeling down. Virtual Reality provides a means to rapidly quiet our mindbody and bring ourselves into meditative self-healing states, without needing to know any unique skills, and without requiring (as many) drugs. We can instantly transform our states of mind.
Part of the magic with casual VR experiences is they help train us to stop thinking about our pain and traumas. Or, if we so choose, we can use VR to help us relax into our pains and traumas as part of our self-care routine, and work towards a full trauma release, in our own home, and on our own time.
A very brief history of virtual reality
VR was initially recognized solely for its entertainment value, but starting in the early 2000’s the applications have expanded to facilitate healing in areas of mental health, physical rehabilitation, and pain management.
Computers just weren’t powerful enough in the 90’s to provide anything beyond an interesting novelty, and so VR was too expensive for any practical application. Two decades later, with the prevalence of pocket computers called smartphones, VR technology has become mobile technology which we can take with us everywhere.
With a smartphone and a portable VR headset, we can carry professional-level brainwave-entrainment and biofeedback healing devices with us in our workout bag or luggage. We can receive the full benefits of our augmented pain management devices even while away from home or on vacation.
Audio-visual entrainment is a safe and proven method to help calm your brain hemispheres down while synchronizing them to maximize performance. We want to metaphorically stop revving our mental engines and to wind them down away from red-lining, so to speak. The internet can thus be used to stream VR audio-visual healing, straight to your device of choice for virtual reality apps, for immediate pain and anxiety relief from nearly anywhere.
For those of us in chronic pain, mobile VR is something we should get excited about!
Virtual reality is nothing to fear
There’s every reason to fear any new technology and so you need to use your own judgment. Just be sure you’re using it to help improve your conditions and not just making things worse. Here’s one way to think about it:
Either a) our technology + our awareness = rapid bodymind self-healing
– OR –
b) Any technology used without our awareness = trouble
After you “enter” virtual reality, you’re free to remove the goggles any time you want. There’s no chance you’re going to forget you’re looking at a screen pressed up against your face.
TIDBIT: The term “virtual reality” was first used in a science fiction context in The Judas Mandala, a 1982 novel by Damien Broderick. A “cyberspace” is a networked virtual reality.[Wikipedia]
VR can help you change your brain
VR can change our brain states quite rapidly, de-escalating flare-ups in just a few minutes time. It steals attention away from our problems, similar to drugs, but without the horrible side-effects. Virtual reality shifts focus away from depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. As therapists, doctors, scientists, and pioneers everywhere begin researching more applications, we’re finding VR has healing benefits to offer almost anyone.
Psychological healing can take place using VR. One in four people will experience mental health issues at least once in their life, and virtual reality may soon be a forerunner treatment option which transforms the way we tackle mental health problems [through the internet]. (https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2017/mar/22/why-virtual-reality-could-be-a-mental-health-gamechanger)
One patient under the care of Dr. Kim Bullock, a neuropsychiatrist at Stanford University, was able to regain the use of a painful arm, and chronic pain disappeared after only five VR treatments. She says many patients experienced relief from chronic pain for up to a week, and some experience pain relief for many months!
VR is an effective behavioral transformation tool: it can be used to improve our self-image; it can be used to help us change our eating and exercise habits; it can even help us break addictions and overcome social anxiety. VR will completely change the way we perceive ourselves and the world.
The future implications of VR to improve our lives are amazing! This is what we should expect from 21st-century health-augmentation and healing technologies! And yes, sure, there’s always a dark side to everything, but we surely don’t need to live there or spend our energy thinking about everything we hate.
VR for Pain Management & Relief
Pain Management. Anxiety Relief.
Burn units are using VR instead of opiates during burn dressing changes, mainly because opioids don’t work and VR does. The military has been using VR to treat PTSD veterans for several years. Hospitals are starting to use VR for pre- and post-op treatment, resulting in overall reduced pain levels during and after surgery. Pain psychologists are using VR for alternatives to opioids for pain treatment, using a method called Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy.
cbtdenver is a virtual reality treatment center in Denver, CO (https://cbtdenver.com/virtual-reality-treatment/). They offer VR treatment environments for Fear of Needles and Needle Injection, Fear of Flying, Fear of Driving, Fear of Animals, Fear of Bugs, Acrophobia (fear of heights), Claustrophobia (including MRI specific), Fear of Public Speaking, Social Anxiety, Relaxation, Mindfulness, and more.
Also, cbtdenver reports VR environments can be therapeutically relevant to a host of common issues they see in their practice, including Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Mood Disorders (Major Depression and Dysthymia), Insomnia, Agoraphobia, and Health Anxiety.
Going deeper into your VR experience
VR is an immersive experience, but you will need to stop holding your breath and learn to breathe while you’re inside a virtual experience. Medical Marijuana will significantly enhance the depth of your VR experiences. Deep Breathing and Meditation go hand-in-hand with some of the more relaxing VR adventures designed for that purpose. Many VR games get you up on your feet and moving around, which may count as exercise if you’re usually a couch potato.
Virtual reality is exhausting after 20-30 minutes
Virtual reality convinces our brain the virtual worlds we see are real. Every once in a while a simulation will pull you in and make you believe you’re not in Kansas anymore. The more believable it is, the better our experience.
Some games (usually action games) can actually cause your body to get revved up and for your mind to ramp up. Getting all jacked up would contribute to your pain, anxiety, or sense of dread instead of helping you ease away from those things.
Be careful you don’t get sucked in for all your waking hours. Taking the headset off is sometimes difficult because we don’t want to leave. However, it is highly recommended you take an extended break after every 20 or 30-minute session of virtual reality therapy otherwise you will begin to feel fatigued.
Your brain is processing a lot more information when you’re in a session, so you want to choose games and environments which contribute to winding down the mind and calming the body.
Virtual reality syndrome
If you spend a while inside VR with today’s rigs, you’ll be seeing “depth” for a while on every computer monitor, phone, or TV screen you look at after coming out from long sessions. Something about the way the little squares of photons sear into the back of your eyeballs will indicate the importance of spending at least a portion of your time in real-world sunlight.
Experiences which move around tend to make our sense of balance throw us off-kilter, so it is recommended you be seated before starting some games or risk losing your balance. The newest Oculus system does not give people motion sickness or headaches; any headache-causing lags from previous versions seem to be all gone (lag is the delay between turning your head and seeing the image move and such delays did cause nausea in early virtual reality gear).
Make sure you clear out space and create safety boundaries within the software and in your room so that you aren’t knocking lamps off tables, tripping over chairs, or smashing your nose into walls. Home VR gear offers sensors which help track your position in space, whereas mobile VR gear uses your smartphone’s internal 6-axis sensors to determine your orientation when you’re wearing it on your face in a headset.
Virtual Reality Therapy for the Home & Mobile VR
Stand-Alone VR – just $99
The future of pain management includes affordable VR therapy. Experience the best healing and distraction therapy available in a portable, wireless, stand-alone Virtual Reality headset, from Google.
VR is more powerful than opioids for pain.
VRPAIN.COM <-- Click that link for more info!
NO PHONE NEEDED!
Freefly VR Headset + Crossfire Triggers for iPhone+Android – $19.99
Samsung Gear VR with Controller (from Oculus) – $129
PlayStation VR – $349 (plus PS4 + PS Camera)
Oculus Rift with Controllers $399 (plus gaming PC)
Vive VR System with controllers $499 (plus gaming PC)
(partial reference: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/0/best-virtual-reality-headsets-can-buy/ )
Virtual Reality Therapy – In Denver, Colorado
cbtdenver | https://cbtdenver.com/virtual-reality-treatment/
North Boulder Physical Therapy
5280 Magazine – That’s Unreal: Is virtual reality the next big thing in mental health care? – Daliah Singer
This past fall, NMHIC launched a pilot with CU’s School of Dental Medicine to determine whether VR can help people with a phobia of getting their pearly whites treated. “We see technology as something that can be a leveler,” Vogl says. “We’re trying to accelerate the pace at which new ideas get out there.”
“There’s really no end to what this technology can do,” says Matt Vogl, executive director of the National Mental Health Innovation Center (NMHIC), which opened in February 2016 on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, with the goal of pioneering solutions to systemic mental health problems.”
Learn more about Virtual Reality as therapy
HealthOne Denver Internal Medicine – Health Library
Virtual Reality Therapy: Another Way To Fight Fear And Control Pain
US National Library of Medicine
Virtual reality and pain management: current trends and future directions
How Virtual Reality Is Helping Heal Soldiers With PTSD
Human Photonics Laboratory
University of Washington Harborview Burn Center, directed by Dr. Nicole Gibran
Virtual Reality Pain Reduction
Seeing Is Believing: How Virtual Reality Is Changing Our Culture
How Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET) Treats PTSD
USC Institute for Creative Technologies
Bravemind: Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy
Institute for Chronic Pain
What Is Biofeedback?
Practical Pain Management – Biofeedback: Information for Pain Management
Biofeedback is an integrative technique that can be used to help patients cope with pain.
Clinical Pain Advisor
Virtual Reality for Pain Management: A Weapon Against the Opioid Epidemic?
The History of Virtual Reality Therapy
Virtual Reality: The New Painkiller?
Pain Pathways Magazine
Virtual Reality For Pain Management – “It’s Better Than Drugs.”
MIT Technology Review (2016)
Better Than Opioids? Virtual Reality Could Be Your Next Painkiller
Brain Plasticity: The New Key to a Better Brain at Any Age
Follow Sean Mackey, M.D., Ph.D, Chief of the Division of Pain Medicine, Director of the Systems Neuroscience and Pain Laboratory (SNAPL) and Redlich Professor of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine, Neurosciences and (by courtesy) Neurology at Stanford University.
Using VR as pain distraction is a growing trend in hospitals:
VR for Depression and Anxiety
In-Depth: Therapeutic VR in 2018 is no longer just a distraction (therapy)
DEEP-VR: A stunning virtual reality game for anxiety and depression
Why Virtual Reality Could Be a Mental Health Game Changer
American Psychiatric Association
Virtual Reality: Expanding Use In Mental Health Treatment
VR Therapy and Counseling Center
How VR Therapy Can Help With Depression
Dr. Jewell, a psychologist from Colorado, is featured in this VR article from the NY Times
A New Way for Therapists to Get Inside Heads: Virtual Reality