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Selena Jammaz

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virtual reality (VR) eating disorders
Therapy and Support

VR Exposure Therapy for Eating Disorders

Influencers. Thought leaders. Foodies. Models. Instagram. Sound familiar? It’s 2020, and it’s noisy. The struggle between people and eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, dates back centuries ago. The human need to be viewed as aesthetically pleasing and acceptable in the eyes of others has intensified in recent years, in parallel with the raging popularity of social media. No, social media isn’t the scapegoat for all of our problems. It does provide us with a place for sharing and receiving information, keeping up with market trends and providing entertaining content after a strenuous day at work.

However, we can’t forget that it’s called social-media. As in, the places we share our media with the rest of the world. Comparing ourselves to others has never been easier, has never been quicker, and has never been a stronger driver behind body self-consciousness. People with eating disorders possess a negative body image of themselves, where what they see is shaped by negative attitudes and perceptions of how they think they look. As a consequence of the distorted lens they can’t but peer through, they tend to overestimate their body weight and shape, and live in a cloud of depression, anxiety and shame as a result.

Rather than turning to drug therapy, a form of psychotherapeutic treatment called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is commonly used to aid in reducing the automatic, negative mental responses people with eating disorders internally struggle with. However, it is limited. Discussing how you feel with your therapist when you’re not actively immersed in that headspace isn’t as effective as sharing your feelings right as they come. But how can that be made possible? With simulated environments.

Virtual Reality (VR) technology is increasingly being used to assist in many mental health conditions that involve managing complex emotions. A study on the use of virtual reality to help individuals with eating disorders outlines that, “Body image disorder in patients with eating disorders are related to a deficiency in their ability to update their negative body image stored in their memory…with sensory motor and proprioceptive inputs in real time.”

By virtually reproducing situations that trigger destructive emotions to flood patients’ minds, therapists are able to step in at that very moment and help them become aware of their body image distortions. This method of creating realistic anxiety inducing simulations, or exposure therapy, is made especially effective with the use of VR tech, and has been developed by numerous companies such as Foretell Reality to help patients in need

The virtual environments are supervised, allowing the therapist to adjust the simulation for the stress level. The patients create their virtual “body”, or the avatar, that reflects how they perceive themselves. The therapist can then generate a silhouette based on the patient’s real body dimensions in order to make apparent the difference between perception and reality to the patient.

Potential for creating all sorts of emotion provoking environments unique to each patient- either who suffer from the mental effects of eating disorders or other mental illnesses- is large with Virtual Reality. Re-living the very environments that arouse negative emotions on the spot allows therapists to help their patients confront their issues right on the spot, and therefore handle them more effectively.

Foretell Reality is an enterprise VR solution for interpersonal communication and business collaboration. Learn more here.

virtual reality (VR) mental health
Therapy and Support

The Mental Health Puzzle

Mental health. What it means today in 2020 is largely different than how a vast number of people perceived it nearly a decade ago. The stigma of its importance is often perceived as being secondary to its tangible counterpart, physical health. Thankfully, more people are recognizing the relationship between mental health and physical wellbeing—especially due to the aid of awareness campaigns, such as Bell Let’s Talk, and increased advocacy from public figures. But what happens when an unprecedented pandemic forces millions to stay at home just as the world has started opening up to the idea of seeking real help?

Although digital alternatives such as videoconferencing, phone calls and email have shown to be effective in helping a scope of mental health illnesses, a piece remains missing. An essential element that links one human to another in order to cultivate an environment of trust and ease of mind is feeling the presence of another human.

When living in isolation and a constant state of uncertainty, there is value in having communication that fosters a sense of connection. Out of all telehealth platforms, Virtual Reality (VR) is the first form of communication that reaps the same advantages as face-to-face meetings and offers additional benefits that would be impossible to execute in a shared, physical environment. Thankfully, technology has been advancing prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, and VR is now surfacing in our new age of remote-health needs.

Companies such as Foretell Reality specialize in creating immersive platforms designed to foster nearly real interpersonal human experiences. A patient’s comfort doesn’t need to be compromised when taking part in VR therapeutic sessions. One VR experience with partner company XRHealth is purposed around ensuring a comfortable environment for its patients by providing relaxing décor and customizable avatars.

Receiving mental and emotional support isn’t a one time thing. Yes, doctor-patient follow ups are possible over the phone and through video call, but VR brings its people closer to each other. That feeling of going into the office and trusting that your doctor has been monitoring your progression is made possible with VR because it minimizes the robotic element that comes with using technology. A recent article from HealthTech outlines, “…In the arena of pain management or mental health, immersion in virtual worlds can produce better results.”

The human species is an incredibly social one, relying heavily on the subtle nuances of eye contact, hand gestures and posture to communicate. COVID-19 has disrupted this mode of communication by forcing a lifestyle of isolation- an especially harmful phenomena to mental health patients in need of real human help. Thankfully, virtual reality is working hand in hand with the healthcare industry to connect patients with doctors in immersive environments that stretch far beyond what video and chat are able to offer.

Foretell Reality is an enterprise VR solution for interpersonal communication and business collaboration. Learn more here.

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