What Therapeutic Healing Environments Can Look Like on Metaverse

The metaverse offers limitless opportunities for healing environments. The term "metaverse" describes an immersive, fully interactive, and completely seamless 3D virtual world. Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence (AI), and hyperconnectivity with 5G networks have all come a long way in the last 20 years. As a result, it is an excellent method for assisting in treating mental health disorders.

Key takeaways:
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    The metaverse provides immense promise for the development of effective mental health therapies.
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    VR therapy provides the economical, individualized high-quality treatment.
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    VR treatment provides a means to break taboos and raise mental health awareness.
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    Using virtual reality tools, the therapist can tailor interventions to fit the needs of each patient.

What is the Metaverse?

The metaverse gained widespread prominence when Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, rebranded the organization as META and invested millions of dollars in the technology.

The metaverse is a graphically rich virtual realm that creates an immersive encounter comparable to a real-life experience. It is where digital versions of humans, known as "Avatars," can mix in professional and social settings. Using a VR headset, an employee, for instance, can interact with an AI-controlled virtual assistant, chat with colleagues, and stroll about a virtual workplace in real-time.

Mental healthcare in the metaverse

In the metaverse, the therapist and patient can share extremely lifelike 3D experiences. In this scenario, the therapist's role is played by an avatar. The patient connects from home, chooses their avatar, walks into a virtual office, sits in an armchair, or lies on a virtual couch. The therapist can decorate the office however they would like at practically no cost. With the click of a mouse, the therapist can provide effective care, including guided meditation, lectures, books, and even interactive phobia simulators.

What is the difference between teletherapy and VR therapy?

Telepsychology or teletherapy, also referred to as online therapy, e-therapy, or zoom counseling is the provision of mental health services and support via the internet. Telepsychology practitioners are now gaining access to increasingly advanced communications technology.

Teletherapy, in which a client speaks with a therapist via video chat rather than physically visiting an office, is different from virtual reality therapy. When properly implemented, computer-simulated worlds (CSWs) offer a profound form of treatment for many mental health conditions because they immerse users in a digital environment which usually involves the use of a virtual world, such as a computer game or headset.

The benefits of Metaverse in mental health

Virtual reality therapy has the potential to make mental health treatment more accessible. Patients will no longer have to travel to appointments. They can benefit from VR therapy if they have restricted mobility, are recuperating from trauma, or are suffering from chronic pain or debilitating phobias. This technology's “sense of presence” may elicit emotional responses and encourage self-reflection in patients, while allowing more control over situations than is achievable with memory or imagination alone. If patients are particularly vulnerable, they may find virtual reality situations less daunting as it creates a more secure environment, making it easier to communicate unpleasant thoughts, painful emotions, and experiences.

Possible negative effects of the Metaverse

Virtual reality "hangovers" are a well-known occurrence, as is VR-induced depression. The more fantastic the immersive experience, the more likely people will feel sad and depressed upon being reintroduced to the real world.

Other concerns include motion sickness, privacy, child safety, equipment expense, desensitization, and the potential for identity theft.

Advantages of virtual reality over conventional psychology

Virtual reality enables the therapist to employ a range of treatments, such as exposure therapy, systematic desensitization, diaphragmatic breathing, muscular relaxation, mindfulness, and EMDR, without the necessity of in vivo exposure. The therapist can repeat specific stressful scenarios as many times as necessary to reach a therapeutic goal. A recent study of chronic pain patients indicated that VR treatment was beneficial in lowering reported pain and distress in patients.

Virtual treatment supports conventional therapeutic methods

Virtual reality therapy does not have to replace conventional treatment. For more serious mental health disorders, traditional therapeutic techniques are essential. However, if conventional treatment falls short in terms of convenience or cost, virtual therapy offers mental health practitioners the option to provide care regardless of the conditions and maintain patient interventions.

VR approaches and mental health conditions that may benefit from VR treatment

Virtual reality treatment incorporates five approaches, ranging from exposure and distraction to motivation, assessment, and engagement. Mühlberger et al., for example, investigated the effect of repeated exposure of flying phobic to virtual reality flights.

Compared to relaxation training, VR exposure resulted in a more significant reduction in fear, according to the research.

Metaverse simulations can aid in the treatment of the following mental health conditions:

  • Eating disorders
  • Addiction
  • Anxiety, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Autism
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Stress and pain management
  • Delusions, psychosis, and schizophrenia

CBT and virtual reality: making treatment accessible to everyone

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with VR has proven to be a ground-breaking tool in this specific area of psychology. Virtual reality technology uses CBT methods and can be used in a clinic or home. Also, because VR technology has numerous control levels, therapists can use it as a helpful tool to create complex, challenging, or mild scenarios. This core part of the technology could be exciting for people who want trauma-based CBT but are afraid of the possibility of in vivo exposure. Multiple studies have shown its feasibility and effectiveness, which supports its use in clinical settings.

Exposure therapy using VR

Exposure therapy is a behavior therapy used to treat anxiety disorders by gradually exposing the patient to anxiety-provoking real-world circumstances. The person may eventually be able to confront the frightening circumstance with less anxiety.

Several studies have demonstrated that VR therapy can shorten the duration of anxiety treatment, making it more affordable. It can also assist therapists in delivering exposure therapy in an accessible manner during therapy sessions in-person or online and in emergency departments and hospitals.

Addiction treatment using VR

Important issues that may impact overcoming drug and alcohol addictions include high-risk situations and cue reactivity. Virtual reality can assist in exposing patients to certain stimuli without the danger of a genuine, high-risk situation.

Virtual reality creates a controlled environment for addiction clients. It predicts a future high-risk event in the actual world and creates cravings via the use of precise triggers. As a result of this frequent but regulated virtual cue exposure, patients can learn and perfect preventative coping skills or other behavioral behaviors.

Training and CPD in the metaverse

Psychologists, trainee therapists, and interns can improve their skills in the metaverse by practicing on AI avatars with complex mental health profiles and navigating stressful scenarios. Virtual reality may also be used to attend virtual seminars, lectures, and conferences.

The metaverse provides an abundance of creative therapeutic resources for individuals in need of mental health treatment. Given the current severe shortage of mental health practitioners, this quickly emerging technology has the potential to greatly enhance access to mental healthcare.

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