Virtual reality offers another way to help people address stress and anxiety.


A new reality: using VR as a therapy tool

It’s natural to feel overwhelmed sometimes.

Maybe several bad things happen at once. Or something unexpectedly brings up difficult memories. At those times, wouldn’t it be nice to feel that you can find respite if you needed it?

As an Evolve therapist, I help people manage difficult feelings and experiences, including past traumas. There are lots of ways to do that, but recently I have found real success with a slightly novel approach: Virtual Reality (or VR).

VR refers to simulated experiences that people get using a headset and some controllers. They can be similar to the real world, like going for a walk, or totally different, like playing a zombie video game.

The idea of using VR first arose during the 2021 lockdowns. I love games and puzzles and wondered if they could provide an outlet for some of our customers too. We were very kindly donated some VR equipment (thank you SolarFlare!), and I asked some clients if they wanted to try it. Already, the results have already been fascinating.

People have used VR in all sorts of imaginative ways during sessions. One person uses it to go ‘fishing’ when they feel stressed, and others use it to simulate walks in nature. For some VR can be a way to start confronting fears or phobias. Or, if I have a session with someone who feels frustrated, action games can provide a safe opportunity for catharsis.

Since Covid-19 began, many people at Evolve have felt sick of staying in the same place, with the same habits and routines. VR can help them to feel transported somewhere else. It can enable escapism and allow people to get lost in the flow of something, whatever it is. That can be a very hard thing to come by.

Even more than that, I have seen VR improve my clients’ confidence and self-compassion. Solving puzzles or learning new things can remind them how to feel curious, renewing their interest in the world around them. This encourages them to try new things and push themselves, giving them a sense of value.

We all know how it feels to be in a slump. At those times a sense of curiosity and self-worth makes such a difference, and I have seen VR help to foster those things. After that, with the right structures and goals people can go much further. They might gain the motivation to finish off an application for college, or apply for a job, or try a new hobby. You would be amazed how much people’s mindsets and frames of reference can shift in a relatively short time.

Of course, VR is just one tool. It won’t work the same for everyone, and we use it when appropriate alongside wider therapeutic approaches. Nonetheless, I have seen it make a big difference, and think the future in this area is really exciting.

Watch this (virtual) space!


Neetu is a Psychological Wellbeing Therapist in our Health + Wellbeing team.

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