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Looking at the Literature: How VRET Can Enhance Clinical Practice

Ever thought about virtual reality? While VR might make you think of video games and amusement park rides, there’s a serious side to virtual reality that’s impacting healthcare professionals around the world. As the power of virtual reality to influence patients’ ways of thinking grows, more researchers are exploring how this new technology can influence clinical practice.


Today we’ll explore an article titled Using Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy to Enhance Treatment of Anxiety Disorders: Identifying Areas of Clinical Adoption and Potential Obstacles [1]. This 2019 research, published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, explored the potential for VRET in clinical practice, and some of the challenges and obstacles that prevent its introduction in clinical settings.


Significant findings:


  • Incorporating virtual reality (VR) in therapy can increase the ease, acceptability, and effectiveness of treatment for anxiety. 

 

  • VR exposure therapy (VRET) permits individualized, gradual, controlled, immersive exposure that is easy for therapists to implement and often more acceptable to patients than in vivo or imaginal exposure. 


  • VR is a scalable tool that can augment access to and effectiveness of exposure therapy thus improving treatment of anxiety disorders.


As the body of literature backing up VRET grows, we want to encourage clinicians around the world to adopt this revolutionary treatment into their practice. Let’s take a look.



The Benefits of Virtual Reality


The researchers identified several benefits from the use of virtual reality in exposure therapy. These were primarily related to patient outcomes, as well as the ease of use for clinicians. They noted that meta-analysis [2] has shown that VRET is easier to implement than traditional, in vivo exposure. Patients report feeling safe and empowered when using VRET, and the approachability of VRET encourages clients to undertake more exposure, increases engagement and leads to better outcomes. Importantly, the authors found “no significant difference in effect size or attrition rates when compared to the gold standard of in vivo exposure therapy”. VR can effectively complement, and even in some cases replace, traditional in vivo exposure.


As well as an impact on patient outcomes — undoubtedly the most important concern for clinicians — the authors noted that VRET was increasingly affordable. With VRET now available through user smartphones, this therapy is more accessible than ever. 


Immediate Impact: How VRET Can Benefit Clinical Practice


oVRcome offers self-guided programmes for those with limited access to professional services, but it is not intended to fully replace trained therapists and the authors are very clear that VRET is an important addition to professional input, not a complete replacement. However, VRET can be integrated into your clinical practice and bring about some important benefits.


In the paper, the authors write that VRET is an excellent adjunct to therapy, and can impact on time-pressured clinical practice, allowing clinicians to better allocate scarce resources such as time and energy. For example, VRET can be prescribed to clients as “homework”, allowing them to progress in between sessions. With oVRcome’s Clinician Portal, at-home progress can be viewed remotely and data is accessed by clinicians, allowing them to tailor the treatment.


Additionally, the authors identify that the scalability of virtual reality offers profound opportunities for clinical practice. Clinicians can see more clients and even take on fully-remote clients, allowing them to expand their practice. 


What’s Stopping Clinicians Integrating VR Into Their Practice?


Despite the powerful evidence for VRET [2, 3, 4], it isn’t yet widely adopted into clinical practice. Previously, we explored how clinician scepticism presents one barrier to the uptake of new technology, and this is identified by the authors as a major obstacle.


Historically, face-to-face delivery of treatment has been prioritized in mental health: this allows for strong assessments of client needs and highlights the importance of human judgment. The introduction of technology may be perceived as an unnecessary extra that dilutes the power of clinician judgment.


The authors suggest that by increasing therapists’ knowledge of VRET, and addressing their concerns, we can encourage more integration of this powerful technology in clinical practice. This article aims to do just that, and there is evidence that as clinician experience of VRET in practice grows, the more positive their attitudes towards it become [5].


A lack of specialized training in the use of virtual reality is also identified as a barrier to the introduction of VRET into clinical practice. The responsibility for this falls to medical schools and licensing bodies, who are encouraged to provide further learning opportunities regarding VRET.


We expect this to grow in future alongside the body of evidence for the efficacy of VRET and meanwhile, we’re making oVRcome’s Clinician Portal easy to use and packed with resources for therapists to learn about the benefits of VRET.


Wrapping Up


Virtual reality exposure therapy has come a long way, and now offers a genuine alternative to traditional in vivo exposure. That means more clients, better results and a data-driven approach to building exposure hierarchies for your patients.


Are you ready to give VRET a try? Now you can step into the future of exposure therapy with no risk: get started with oVRcome for Clinicians and add your first remote client for free today.


References:


1) Boeldt, D., McMahon, E., McFaul, M., & Greenleaf, W. (2019). Using Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy to Enhance Treatment of Anxiety Disorders: Identifying Areas of Clinical Adoption and Potential Obstacles. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10, 773. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00773

2) Carl E, Stein AT, Levihn-Coon A, Pogue JR, Rothbaum B, Emmelkamp P, et al. Virtual reality exposure therapy for anxiety and related disorders: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Anxiety Disorder (2019) 61(August 2018):27–36. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2018.08.003


3) Parsons TD, Rizzo AA. Affective outcomes of virtual reality exposure therapy for anxiety and specific phobias: A meta-analysis. J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry (2008) 39(3):250–61. doi: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2007.07.007


4) Opriş D, Pintea S, García-Palacios A, Botella C, Szamosközi Ș, David D. Virtual reality exposure therapy in anxiety disorders: a quantitative meta-analysis. Depression Anxiety (2012) 29(2):85–93. doi: 10.1002/da.20910


5) Vincent, C., Eberts, M., Naik, T., & Gulick, V. (2021). Provider experiences of virtual reality in clinical treatment. PLOS ONE, 16(10), e0259364. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0259364

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