Using virtual reality devices, patients are exposed to OCD triggering settings, starting with lower exposures until they can tolerate it without carrying out compulsions. Which results in better management of the condition.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, also known as OCD, leads to excessive unwanted thoughts or sensations (obsessions), along with repetitive behaviors or actions (Compulsions). OCD happens due to anxiety, genetic errors and functional abnormalities occur in the human brain.
While we all exhibit habitual behavior and experience excessive unwanted thoughts, the behaviors associated with OCD are beyond the control of the person experiencing them and can cause distress and interfere with their quality of life.
Treatment for OCD
While there isn’t a cure for OCD yet, many therapies can help manage obsessions and compulsions so that they don’t interfere with the daily life of the patient.
A common psychological treatment involves exposure to objects and environments that can cause anxiety, The treatment will start with placing the patient in situations that cause a tolerable level of anxiety and gradually build-up to the settings they find more difficult, helping them to relieve their distress and prevent their compulsive responses.
For example, A person who experiences OCD may find themselves unable to use a public bathroom – or unable to do so without carrying out compulsive behaviors, such as washing and drying their hands a set number of times – due to their obsessions about germs and dirt. The treatment starts as they are gradually exposed to this triggering setting, starting with lower exposures until they can tolerate it without carrying out compulsions. It is called Emotional Responsive Therapy (ERP).
ERP is one of the most effective treatments for OCD and it is an area where Virtual Reality (VR) therapy can prove especially useful.
Virtual Reality therapy
Virtual Reality is a technology that allows users to walk around in, and interact with, three-dimensional computer-generated environments. Users can see, hear, and interact with the virtual environment, which feels more real than looking at a computer screen.
Wearing a VR headset, patients can enter simulated situations that trigger their OCD symptoms in a safe and controlled environment. Virtual Reality exposure is engaging while increasing safety and control, as people can decide when the next object will be present in the environment and know they can always instantly switch off or get out from the Virtual Reality.
VR therapy platform Psious’s head of health and science Iris Stracke says, VR therapy comes with several distinct advantages compared to real-world ERP, which can help therapists have a better understanding of the progress their patients are making.
“It is said that the gold standard for OCD is exposure therapy and this is one of the areas where VR is especially useful for several reasons,” says Stracke.
“One of them is that it allows for standardization and control because with OCD and its specific triggers it’s very helpful in therapeutic settings for the therapist to know how many triggers there are and when and where they will occur.
Not only for OCD, but treatments using Virtual reality are also proved to be helpful in many other mental health conditions such as phobias, as well as for other disorders such as PTSD, social anxiety, depression, eating disorders, psychosis, and addictions.
Considering that mental disorders are surging worldwide, VR is a welcome additional treatment.
VR therapy has not been widely available as a treatment to date, due to its cost and technology limitations. However, with the rise of affordable standalone and mobile VR headsets, and dedicated apps there is an increased opportunity to use VR as a common mental health treatment, allowing more people to benefit.