Mental Health Treatment via Video Game

Can virtual reality titles like Oculus Rift heal as well as entertain? Some experts think so.

Brentwood 6/27/2013 09:05 PM GMT (TransWorldNews)

Detractors say video games can be violent, inhibit social interaction and become addicting, but some experts are now suggesting that a new piece of technology called Oculus Rift may change that way of thinking. This virtual reality headset for 3-D games may actually possess the power to help treat mental health issues.

It may seem far-fetched, but it’s credible science. The headsets have been evaluated by a preeminent expert in virtual reality therapy (VRT), which is the practice of immersing patients in virtual realms to treat mental health problems. His verdict? "They're a game changer for the work that we do."

The technology is not yet available for the average consumer, but experts already see it as nothing short of revolutionary (and note these are clinical experts and not gaming experts we’re talking about here).

"I have no question that Oculus will revolutionize virtual reality for clinical purposes," Dr. Albert Rizzo, a research scientist at the University of California's Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT), told The Verge. "This system is going to be about so much more than playing games," he added.

He would know. Not only has he had the opportunity to review the equipment in advance, Rizzo is an expert on VRT. Several studies have shown that his VRT protocol yields a significant reduction in PTSD symptoms, and current research is comparing its effectiveness to other therapeutic approaches. Other experts are either using or evaluating VRT programs to treat addiction, phobias and anxiety disorders.

Depending on the issue being addressed VRT works in different ways, but the therapy is typically designed to mimic real-life scenarios that a patient struggles with. For war-related PTSD patients use it to relive combat situations in an effort to assuage fearful associations linked to traumatic memories. For addiction patients are confronted with triggers (a bar or a cigarette, for example) in an effort to cultivate and master their resistance strategies for cravings.

It’s still a relatively young field and the technology has a long way to go, but Oculus Rift will be a big step forward. "People think virtual reality is all about gaming. But we really think that's only the beginning," says Palmer Luckey, Oculus Rift’s creator.

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