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Therapy and Support, VR-Related

VR for Treating Anxiety and Depression

If you live in the U.S. where the combined rate of anxiety and depressive disorders among adults is approximately one in three, you likely know someone who suffers from the disorders’ crippling symptoms such as hopelessness and guilt. Perhaps you yourself have experienced a depressive episode and were encouraged to seek help, but for a multitude of reasons that we will touch on later, you didn’t. Virtual Reality (VR) reduces the barrier to engagement in mental health treatment and recent research shows that it can be used as a powerful tool against anxiety and depression.

The focus on anxiety and depression is relatively recent, but the relationship between VR and mental health is decades old. The first mental health breakthrough occurred in the 1990s when VR exposure therapy was used to treat war veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). VR exposure therapy simulates life-like stimuli in a controlled environment. Under the supervision of a mental health professional, patients confront the object or scenario they fear, thereby diminishing their anxiety over time. VR exposure therapy treatments were also developed for phobias such as claustrophobia, arachnophobia, and fear of flying. Additionally, early VR therapies focused on cue reactivity for addictions like nicotine. Because VR makes the scenario feel real, patients are able to practice their behavior when confronted with stimuli (e.g. a crowd of people smoking) that trigger their arousal and anticipation.

Early VR treatments like exposure therapy and cue reactivity were one-on-one. And often the therapist was not immersed in the space with the patient, but rather was guiding the session from the outside. More recent technological developments have enabled multiple participants to interact in a shared environment, which has made VR  support groups and group therapy a reality. 

In one example, Yale School of Medicine partnered with Foretell Reality to study the viability of VR support groups for adolescent cancer patients. VR allows something that other types of therapy (e.g. tele-health via video) do not – anonymity. If you’ve experienced depression or know someone who has, you’ll be familiar with the heavy burden of social interaction. If you’re losing your hair due to cancer treatments or your depression has taken a toll on your hygiene habits, you can understand why some would avoid group therapies altogether. Because VR is avatar-based, patients do not feel judged as they are not physically “seen.” At the same time, they can still interact with other avatar patients through body movement and gestures as if they are in the same physical space. 

Anonymity helps solve the burden of stigmatization regarding physical appearance, but that isn’t the only barrier that VR addresses. Those suffering from depression and anxiety may experience challenges focusing. With a VR headset on, it isn’t possible to look at your phone or be distracted by the television. A patient is fully immersed in a virtual supportive environment: chairs in a circle, the cushy pillows… everything looks… real. And the possibilities are endless. Perhaps your support group is meeting by the ocean or on a serene clifftop nestled in the clouds. You are there – and you didn’t even have to leave your home. You can use different settings for a daily meditation or mindfulness practice, walk on the beach with your guide while discussing your feelings, or play a virtual ball game with your peers. 

And that brings us to another barrier to mental health treatment: the physical one. Some patients are disabled and literally cannot leave their homes. Others live in a rural area with no accessible support group within hundreds of miles. And depressed patients may at times not feel physically capable of leaving even their beds. A $300 headset and internet connection is all one needs to connect socially from anywhere in the world. 

VR technology has been evolving for over two decades, and has greatly accelerated in the past couple of years. This evolution comes just in time for using VR effectively for various (tele) mental health purposes. In less than ten years, the World Health Organization predicts that mental health disorders will be the leading burden of disease worldwide. We must use every available tool to treat mental health disorders, and VR is here to help.

Mindfulness, Therapy and Support, VR-Related

Four Real World Examples of VR for Mindfulness and Meditation

According to a Harvard Health, mindfulness is “a key element in stress reduction and overall happiness” and is known to “help relieve stress, treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, and alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties.” 

Despite its benefits, however, mindfulness training can be intimidating to non-practitioners and particularly difficult for remote participants. This has lead researchers to investigate how Virtual Reality (VR) can be used to lower the barriers and increase the efficacy of meditation practice for a variety of purposes and populations. Below are four recent examples.

To Increase Positive Emotion in the General Population

A recent study out of Melbourne, Australia is one of several that points to VR as a viable option for improving mental health and mindfulness. Mindfulness is a great way to improve mental health, however, under normal circumstances, is a difficult habit to adopt due to environmental and personal distractions. Virtual Reality (VR) directly addresses these challenges “by providing an immersive environment for practicing mindfulness and by supporting the user to orient attention to the present moment within a tailored virtual setting.” A group of 37 participants were recruited to trial a VR mindfulness app in which users were presented with 360 video of a “peaceful forest environment with a guided mindfulness voiceover.” Researchers analyzed participant scores on the State Mindfulness Scale, Simulator Sickness Questionnaire, arousal, and positive or negative emotion before and after users participated in the simulation. Although there were initial concerns about simulator sickness and negative emotion, neither of these variables produced any notable changes following the simulation. However, state mindfulness and positive emotion significantly increased, participants reporting that “the use of VR helped them to focus on the present moment by using visual and auditory elements of VR as attentional anchors.” The spatial presence of virtual environments allowed participants to practice mindfulness and meditation, positively affecting their mental health and well-being.

To Reduce Stress In the Workplace

A study out of England analyzed workplace stress specifically in the National Health Service (NHS) and tested the effectiveness of Virtual Reality in decreasing levels of stress and promoting overall well being. “Work-related stress, defined as ‘a harmful reaction that people have to undue pressures and demands placed on them at work’ is one of the most important emerging risks in occupational management and health.” This stress is threatening not only the quality of services provided, but the sustainability of vital healthcare systems and corporations around the world. Researchers provided a 10-minute VR relaxation experience to 39 trauma staff working in a fast-paced environment. Following the session, participants “reported significantly increased feelings of happiness and relaxation, and significantly decreased feelings of sadness, anger, and anxiety.” Furthermore, patients experienced a significant reduction in heart rate and yielded high acceptability ratings. Ultimately, the study found that VR relaxation sessions were beneficial to the health and well-being of healthcare workers, and many were excited at the opportunity to implement it into their everyday lives.

To Help Treat Opioid Addiction

VR mindfulness and relaxation are also being implemented in the midst of the opioid epidemic. This epidemic is an ever-so-present problem in our society, and the key to preventing further damage is by exploring viable alternatives to pain relief. According to The Gate Theory of Pain proposed by Melzack and Wall in 1965, “a person may interpret pain stimuli differently depending upon mental/emotional factors such as attention paid to the pain, emotions associated with the pain, and past experience of the pain.” Believe it or not, we can essentially “distract” our way out of pain. Virtual Reality addresses two of Melzack and Wall’s points – attention and emotional state. Through VR technology, patients can escape to an alternate reality, sending positive signals to their brain and subsequently lessening the pain they are experiencing. This technology dates back to 1996, when the Harborview Burn Center “successfully piloted the use of VR for burn patients with severe acute pain,” which inspired other providers to make VR technology accessible to patients experiencing acute pain. Recent studies have shown promising results for relieving chronic pain as well, patients reporting high levels of satisfaction and a significant reduction in overall pain. Although VR cannot fully take the place of opioids, it can definitely be used as an alternative for certain candidates, considering their level of pain and potential risk factors.

To Act As A Moderator of Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy

Virtual Reality is another promising candidate as a moderator of Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy (PP), a “unique psychopharmacological model that leverages the profound effects of the psychedelic experience.” PP is highly reliant on two key factors – the patient’s mindset and their surrounding environment. Consequently, meditation, relaxation, and visualization are supplemental tools in creating the most effective environment for this therapy. Virtual Reality is a promising candidate to provide these tools, given its evidenced capacity to “aid relaxation and reduce anxiety; buffer from external stimuli; promote a mindful presence; train the mind to achieve altered states of consciousness (ASC); evoke mystical states; enhance therapeutic alliance and encourage self-efficacy.” Because there was little empirical evidence on the joint application of VR technology in Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy, researchers aimed to gather evidence on the ability to achieve a deeper sense of consciousness in a virtual environment. 

They found 7 different ways that VR can be used to support psychedelic treatments:

1. Mitigate psychological side effects through enhancing the state of relaxation,

2. Help participants sustain their focus on intention by removing familiar cues that keep them tethered to their external world,

3. Encourage entering the inner world of experience by inducing a mindful presence,

4. Deepen the intensity of acute psychological and emotional states via simultaneous targeting of ME-evoking pathways,

5. Prime the capacity to achieve an altered states of consciousness (ASC) through familiarization and comfort with the ASC experience,

6. Enhance and maintain a hierarchy-free therapeutic alliance that is consistent throughout treatment,

7. Strengthen resilience and a sense of agency around facing challenging experiences.

It is also important to note the comfort and safety of the environments that VR provides, allowing patients to temporarily distract themselves from the emotionally taxing process of overcoming and treating PTSD or related disorders. Researchers ultimately recommend that VR be introduced into PP, as long as it is “developed in accordance with a robust protocol…and accompanied by thorough training of any practitioners involved in therapy.” Virtual Reality has the ability to transform the future of psychedelic treatments, as long as appropriate precautions are taken to not introduce disturbing or traumatic triggers or distract from the inner narrative.

The Foretell Reality platform provides safe VR environments to support various mental health treatment protocols including those that incorporate mindfulness training and relaxation experiences as part of the protocol. To learn more about our platform, please reach out to us for a demo.

Therapy and Support, VR-Related

How VR can address shortcomings of video-based group telemental health sessions

In person group-based intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) have shown promising results for adults with serious mental illnesses. At the start of pandemic, these IOPs were forced to meet remotely through video-based telemental health (TMH) platforms presenting an opportunity to better understand the benefits and drawbacks of online group therapy.

A recent study from the Mayo Clinic focused on TMH group-based IOPs, providing insight into the effectiveness of and overall patient satisfaction with this type of treatment. Researchers interviewed 76 patients with diagnosed serious mental illness (SMI) who participated in an online video group based IOP.

Researchers gathered their data using a 17-item questionnaire covering 3 areas: “IOP TMH satisfaction, future recommendations, and video technology challenges.” According to the feedback they received, “the majority of patients reported high satisfaction, comfort, appropriateness, relevance, and compatibility” of the TMH service, 92.5% of them reporting “that they would recommend this service format to a friend or family member.” Most patients were glad to have the option for treatment during COVID, one even commenting that it was “just like being in a room full of people” and it “saved [their] life.” 

Despite the fact that group telehealth was viewed favorably overall, there were reported challenges during the program. Slow internet connection, poor video camera quality, login problems, and accidental removal from the session were the most highly reported of these challenges. One of the participants noted that the Zoom meetings didn’t feel as welcoming, and “’there couldn’t really be a discussion [as if they were] sitting in the same room.’” Another wanted “more collaboration among the patients.”

Other participants wished they had used “’more of the Zoom features such as the whiteboard,’” or recommended “’some tabs to find things [easier].”’ There seemed to be a large disconnect with the learning materials in general. Patients suggested that administrators work on “improving the structure of the binder.” Some of the patients didn’t like the program at all because of the video format and desired something more immersive and interactive.  

Though the study affirms that remote group therapy was well received in general, there were clear deficiencies noted. Virtual Reality (VR) for group therapy addresses many of these concerns and offers other benefits not possible through video-based TMH.

poor video camera quality”

Instead of sitting in front of a camera, group therapy in VR allows participants to sit, lie down, or walk around in their physical environment. More importantly, everyone is portrayed as a personalized avatar which creates a consistent visual and auditory experience regardless of room lighting or camera or microphone quality. The need not to be on camera also takes away judgement of physical appearance and removes outside environmental distractions.

“there couldn’t really be a discussion [as if they were] sitting in the same room”

Unlike group video sessions in which everyone is arranged on a flat grid, VR sessions are held in a shared, 3D environment. This means that participants who look around the room will see one another from the same perspective as they would in the physical world. For example, to see the person who is slightly out of view to my left, I would turn my head in that direction and they would appear in front of me. Since everyone is sitting in a shared environment, they also see the same things as one another creating a stronger sense of connection.

“more of the Zoom features such as the whiteboard”

Just as with Zoom, VR offers many tools for collaboration and instruction including white boards, sticky notes, and media presenting. But VR also provides the ability to manipulate and pass 3D objects, draw in space, and watch fully enveloping 360 video.

“more collaboration among the patients” 

True collaboration in Zoom in a challenge because we as humans collaborate in 3D space. VR provides the ability to collaborate in ways not possible on Zoom whether that means team building exercises, collaborative role play with avatars, or simple games that bring people together.

“improving the structure of the binder”

A foundation of many IOPs is the presentation of a structured curriculum which is outlined in binders provided to patients who follow along during each session. With limited space to view and absorb material, video sessions present a challenge when it comes to conveying this material. With VR, patients can reference their binder from their own personal screen while also collectively viewing material on the therapists screen(s). Navigating between materials and interacting with them is much more intuitive as it mimics the 3D world.

VR also provides benefits not identified above. For example, avatars allow for exploration of identity, role play activities and anonymity if desired. All or parts of sessions can be recorded and played back in 3D allowing for analysis and reflection from the group. And analytics such as time spent speaking and direction of gaze provide insights for both patient and therapist.

Foretell Reality is an avatar-based, multi-participant virtual reality platform specifically designed for group therapy and support. Please click here for more information or to schedule a demo.

Therapy and Support, VR-Related

Study Compares Face-to-Face and Virtual Reality Interactions: What it means for tele-health.

Tele-health options are on the rise in recent years, and have especially flourished during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mental health therapy has evolved from largely in person-only to including other methods like web-based applications (e.g. Zoom) and Virtual Reality (VR) that make health care accessible in the comfort of one’s home without the constraints of transportation and other logistical barriers. Researchers are beginning to study the dynamics of virtual communication and how this medium compares with face-to-face conversation. Findings can be especially relevant for mental health therapists who seek to provide the ideal environment for patient comfort to disclose thoughts and feelings, thereby facilitating more effective therapy. 

At Edith Cowan University in Australia, researchers studied social interaction in two contexts – one in which participant and researcher engaged in casual conversation, and the other in which the participant was instructed to disclose both positive and negative personal experiences to their research conversational partner. These contexts were studied within a face-to-face condition as well as a virtual condition, wherein the researcher was represented via avatar in real time through face and body motion capture.

While participants had an overall slight preference for face-to-face interaction, one of the findings is of particular relevance to mental health practitioners. In the disclosure of negative information context a significant portion of the participants (30%) preferred the interaction with the avatar over the in-person conversation, specifically on the facets of self-disclosure, comfort, and being able to relax and be oneself. The researchers suggest, “the increased sense of interpersonal distance in VR may be why some of our participants indicated such preferences for VR over face-to-face for negative disclosure”. Furthermore, they surmise that a study conducted specifically with a socially anxious participant population could yield an even greater preference for virtual reality when disclosing negative experiences.

It also makes sense to consider that participant comfort level with the avatar could be higher in conditions that more closely align with communication norms. In the present experiment, the virtual partner, represented through an avatar, was standing while the participant was sitting.  This dynamic of the participant sitting while the avatar stood had the potential to lessen participants’ level of comfort and ability to relax, as it may have felt more unnatural. Ideal study conditions would have mimicked the typical conversational interaction of two people sitting and speaking (as was the case in the face-to-face interaction), but researchers had the avatar standing behind a desk in the VR condition to avoid a potentially distracting technological effect of the avatar “clipping” with the table. Clipping is a technical glitch that can be easily avoided with a careful design of the VR environment.

Also, in this study, only the research conversational partner was represented via avatar while participants were not. Participants were aware that they were not anonymous as their conversation partner could see them sitting with a VR headset on. Further studies that allow participant anonymity that shields identity through an avatar could be useful to mental health practitioners. For many suffering with anxiety and depression, their physical appearance (for example, due to hair loss associated with chemotherapy or body image issues) can be a deterrence to participating in group therapy. It may be possible that the avatar anonymity in VR could increase their willingness even more to disclose information and participate in group discussion.

Foretell Reality is a VR platform that provides safe, secure environments, customizable avatars, and moderation tools for clinicians to facilitate individual and group therapy sessions, support groups, and other behavioral health treatments.

Therapy and Support, VR-Related

Benefits of VR for Five Types of Therapy and Support Groups

Speaking with a therapist or social worker over video has become much more commonplace over the past two years for obvious reasons. The experience, though not perfect, provides for ‘face-to-face’ communication, albeit in two-dimensional space, and it addresses the need for remote treatment which is critical.

The same cannot be said when it comes to group therapy and support. The Brady Bunch style grid of faces on a flat screen simply does not work well when it comes to facilitating open and natural group conversation.

Virtual Reality offers an alternative to video, one that realistically mimics a group setting and the dynamics of group interactions in three dimensions rather than two. Not only that, features such as personalized avatars, shared customizable environments, and moderator controls provide certain benefits not possible online and even with in-person groups.

Below are examples of five groups where VR offers specific benefits over video.

Rare Diseases

People with the same rare diseases and their families face many unique challenges including physical limitations, lack of information, and the ongoing emotional toll of living with uncertainty. Support groups in VR offer an alternative to having to be on camera whatever condition you may be in. Everyone in the group appears as a playful though expressive avatar adding levity to difficult conversations. And VR is an amazing tool for sharing information whether it is videos, websites, or even 3D models and 360 videos related to a particular condition.

Recovery

Anonymity is critical to many people seeking recovery, particularly for those who may be well known in their profession or community. This dissuades many people from seeking the support of others. VR allows complete anonymity through an avatar and voice masking while also providing the feeling of shared presence that is core to the support group experience.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

Group sessions are one of the main activities in DBT therapy. Each session follows curriculum developed by clinicians and lead by trained therapists. Sessions can cover concepts like distress tolerance, acceptance, and mindful awareness and involve sharing of videos and other materials as well as role play. VR is a very powerful tool for mindfulness exercises and it has often been called the ’empathy machine’ for its ability to change ingrained attitudes and behavior.

LGBTQ+

We wrote a recent blog post about the challenges and opportunities social VR presents for the LGBTQ+ community. Safe, secure support groups lead by either a peer, social worker, or clinician offer an alternative to those who want to remain anonymous but also still feel viscerally connected to others. Avatars also offer a unique opportunity to explore identity and empowerment without the constraints and limitations of real world appearances.

Autism

Autism is a spectrum disorder meaning it affects everyone differently. Adults and children with autism may have varying levels of challenge with behavior, social skills, verbal and non-verbal communication, and sensory and attention issues. A tailored group experience in VR lead by a trained therapist offers a focused and controlled experience not possible online. Spaces specifically designed to feel calming and comfortable can also allow for practicing social skills and interpersonal communication through avatar role play. Similarly, the anonymity afforded by an avatar facilitates open conversation and provides an avenue to explore facial expressions and gestures.

Foretell Reality is a social VR platform that provides safe spaces for therapy and support, soft skills development, and other interpersonal activities like real time collaboration and group events. Please visit our website for more information or to schedule a demo.

Therapy and Support, VR-Related

Recent Study: Social VR Provides Real Mental Health Benefits

According to the Mayo Clinic, “socializing not only staves off feelings of loneliness, but also it helps
sharpen memory and cognitive skills, increases your sense of happiness and well-being, and
may even help you live longer.”

But what do you do if in person social interactions could be dangerous to your physical health?

A recent study out of the Netherlands analyzed the psychological benefits of using social virtual reality
platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers posited that “by offering (virtual) spaces where users can hang out, chat, and play games together in apparent physical proximity, social VR apps could be especially well-suited to foster feelings of social connection among users.”

Based off a dataset of 220 surveys of respondents who were active users of social VR platforms during the pandemic, the study looked at how both social presence and spatial presence affected three different areas – relatedness, establishing meaningful and rich social interactions, self-expansion, going into unchartered territory to widen our understanding of who we are and how we view life, and enjoyment, taking pleasure in something.

After analyzing the results of the surveys, researchers wrote that the “findings suggest that social VR can provide psychological benefits in terms of relatedness, self-expansion, and enjoyment, which are associated with the immersive properties of the medium.”

Among the study’s highlights:

Spatial presence predicts relatedness, self-expansion, and enjoyment.

A sense of spatial presence, a “users’ sense of being physically located in, and enveloped by, the virtual
environment,” was a key contributor in relatedness, self-expansion, and enjoyment. Directly
interacting with a virtual environment elevated the user experience and made social VR
platforms much more rewarding through the natural interactions that it fostered.”

Social presence predicts relatedness and enjoyment, but not self-expansion.

The feeling of social presence, “a users’ sensation of being physically co-located and socially connected with others,” was another predictor in relatedness and enjoyment but did not involve self-
expansion.

Playful activities are associated with self-expansion psychological benefits.

Contrary to popular belief, taking part in playful activities, such as gaming or
exploring virtual worlds correlated with a high level of satisfaction and obtained psychological
benefits. Socialization activities are associated with relatedness and enjoyment outcomes.

With Omicron potentially signaling the end of the pandemic, social distancing guidelines will be rescinded, but the need for social VR platforms will not waiver. Terminally ill hospital patients, people with
high social anxiety, or even shy teens can fulfill their needs for social interaction through virtual
reality. According to the researchers, in a low-risk environment that offers anonymity, “social VR
can help users satisfy their psychological need for relatedness, that is, the need for establishing
meaningful and rich social interactions, which is considered a fundamental human
psychological need.”

Foretell Reality is a social VR platform that provides safe spaces for therapy and support, soft skills development, and other interpersonal activities like real time collaboration and group events. Please visit our website for more information or to schedule a demo.

Therapy and Support

Needs of LGBTQ+ Community in VR

One of the greatest advantages of using VR technology is the anonymity aspect – for the LGBTQ+ community, this is revolutionary. People who have not yet “come out” can interact with others who may be facing a similar obstacle and use the technology as a powerful outlet to receive support, create genuine bonds, and gain confidence in their sexuality.

However, one of the greatest disadvantages of using VR technology is also the anonymity aspect. With anonymity comes a lack of responsibility for one’s actions. According to a recent ARPost article, LGBTQ+ members consistently face harassment and abuse within the Meta, “taking the form of vitriolic and toxic comments about a person’s sexuality or gender” and “leaving victims suffering from trauma.”

What could be used as a powerful tool in gaining support from peers has repeatedly proven to worsen user’s mental health and self-esteem. Although efforts have been made to ward off this cyberbullying, it’s still very difficult to monitor and control a user’s actions in an open VR environment. User privacy is another critical problem in virtual reality. Certain applications may collect “highly personal biometric data, such as your fingerprints, face geometry, and/or eye scans,” but the real danger lies in the fact that these companies are able to use or sell your information however they see fit.

This could be a terrifying ordeal for members in the LGBTQ+ community, especially those living in third-world countries that have discriminatory laws in place. The lack of inclusivity in VR environments also drives LGBTQ+ users away. Although many companies boast their customizable avatars, they only represent the cisgender, straight characters, which automatically excludes a vast majority of the LGBTQ+ community. In order to have its full effect, VR applications must learn to represent minorities as well.

The good news is that there are outlets that promote safe, inclusive, and diverse environments within virtual reality. Foretell Reality is a platform that enables authentic human interactions in immersive environments designed to facilitate communication, collaboration, and learning. Sessions are HIPPA compliant, moderated, and accessible by invite only, eliminating the possibility for harassment, bullying, and selling of personal information. Anonymity in therapy and support groups allows participants to shield their identity if they aren’t ready to come out but are still seeking support and advice. If you’re interested in the power of these safe spaces, please visit our website for more information or to schedule a demo.

Mindfulness, Therapy and Support, VR-Related

VR for Overcoming the Challenges of Meditating

We all know that meditation is good for you. With roots in spiritual and secular traditions stretching back thousands of years, meditation is a time-tested way to reduce stress and enhance mental and physical well-being. Tradition has been backed by testing in recent years, as the health benefits of meditation have been substantiated by the scientific community. Studies have shown that meditation’s ability to regulate emotional intensity mitigates both emotional distress and physical pain, and can even remedy physical ailments like high blood pressure. For these reasons and more, meditation has tripled in popularity over the past decade, with no signs of slowing down. 

There is an inherent paradox with meditation, however. The common reasons to meditate–overthinking, stress, anxiety–also present a real challenge to meditating in the first place. Meditation aims to achieve a clear mind, but when effective meditation hinges on clearing the mind to begin with, it’s hard to know where to start. With our attention span collectively narrowing and a bevy of distractions constantly available to us, not to mention a global pandemic weighing on us all, meditation is at once more necessary and more difficult than ever. 

Meditation in Virtual Reality (VR) addresses these obstacles on the road to mindfulness, even offering several advantages to traditional meditation. Let’s start with distractions: the all-encompassing nature of a VR headset, enveloping our senses in 360 degrees of sight and sound, eliminates some of the self-discipline required by traditional meditation. No longer do you need to practice monastic self-restraint inches away from your phone or computer, as a VR headset is just as engaging and entertaining as your devices, but ultimately works toward a productive end. The visual and auditory sensations of VR immerse participants in their meditation, allowing them to focus solely on mindfulness to an extent that’s challenging even for experienced meditators. Paired with auxiliary activities like breathing exercises, VR makes meditation more accessible for newcomers than ever before.

Guided group meditation has traditionally helped newer practitioners get into the groove of meditation, as the group setting offers several advantages to going it alone. Group accountability, relatability, and consistency are key advantages to practicing mindfulness as a group. It’s difficult, however, to effectively conduct group meditation over Zoom or even in-person, and VR not only makes group meditation possible but actually augments several advantages of group meditation. Anonymized avatars provide a level of comfort for those with social anxiety, allowing them to participate in group meditation without presenting additional stress. Even in group settings, users can individualize their meditation session to fit their personal preferences, benefitting from the social aspect of group meditation without compromising their own meditation experience. 

Beyond accommodating personal preferences, customizability allows for regular meditation despite daily variations in mood and mindset. Say you want to meditate, but you’re feeling particularly fidgety or restless today. Instead of sitting still atop a vista, you can opt for a more active meditation session interacting with butterflies in a field or sea life on the ocean floor. If you’re feeling particularly anxious and want to meditate in a familiar, comforting environment, you can spend your time in the Dunder Mifflin office or Rick and Morty’s garage. Moreover, VR integration with biofeedback allows users to better understand how meditation affects them and modify their sessions accordingly. The range of environments and activities available, as well as on-the-fly adjustments made according to biofeedback results, can tailor meditation sessions for a given day, ensuring that you never miss out on the benefits of mindfulness.

The control that customizable VR meditation offers can itself be a source of comfort. Especially during the pandemic, when many felt a lack of agency in their daily lives, the ability to design your own space for rest and relaxation can do wonders for one’s mental health. The variety of environments, many of them real-life travel destinations, addresses the stir craziness many felt from stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions. Not to mention, the socialization potential for group meditation in VR allows users to feel connected and present with one another when physically shared spaces may not always be an option. 

Foretell Reality is a social VR platform for mental health and wellbeing that supports both group and individual mindfulness practice among other activities including group therapy and peer support. To learn more or schedule a demo, please visit our website..

Soft Skills, Therapy and Support, VR-Related

The Metaverse Needs Safe Spaces

I think we’ve all heard by now that Facebook has rebranded itself to “Meta.” What many of us have failed to realize, though, is the widespread implications of that. According to Mark Zuckerberg, society will use the metaverse to connect with family and friends, create their own homes, and invite people into it. Zuckerberg believes this will create “the feeling of presence: the defining quality of the metaverse.” Social VR is extremely valuable in this aspect – it’s a fun and exciting way to connect with people, especially in situations where you may be geographically too far to meet with someone in real life. You also have the ability to safely do activities that you may not be able to do in real life, such as extreme mountain biking, skydiving, off-roading, racing, or taking part in shooting games. However, with an increase in life-like realities, comes the ever-so-present threat of harassment. 

Just days after Meta released their platform “Horizon Worlds” to the public, many women came forward about their experiences with sexual harassment. In a recent Bloomberg article, a woman described that she didn’t necessarily feel unsafe, but “was uncomfortable, and there were no clear rules about etiquette and personal space.” Her entire experience seemed to be tainted by the imminent presence of griefers: people who disrupt others just to annoy them. Although there are numerous moderators to protect users from this behavior as well as harassment, it is a considerably difficult task to process a spoken language, visible gestures, and body language, rather than simply scanning a text online. 

In an effort to combat this, Meta offers a “Safe Zone”, but many users have not been informed of this feature, and thus do not have the ability to block their perpetrators.  Zuckerberg’s promise that “privacy and safety will be built into the metaverse from day one” seems to be falling short due to a lack of investment in user education. This isn’t a new problem by any means, though. According to the MIT Technology Review, this began as early as 2016 when a woman was harassed in a VR zombie game. She recalls, “There I was, being virtually groped in a snowy fortress with my brother-in-law and husband watching.” It may not seem like a big deal, but a recent beta tester of Horizon Worlds disagrees: “Sexual harassment is no joke on the regular internet, but being in VR adds another layer that makes the event more intense.” Researchers of online harassment assert that the fully immersive aspect of 3D environments “tricks the user into thinking they are physically in a certain space, that their every bodily action is occurring in a 3D environment,” which is why “VR triggers the same internal nervous system and psychological responses.”

So how does a platform that was built on the foundation of inclusivity and an ability to meet people of all different backgrounds can become a threatening place, full of discomfort for some? The common denominator between all of these incidents is unrestricted environments and an abuse of anonymity.

The good news is that the metaverse is larger than one company and the applications for VR for positive social interactions are game changing. Foretell Reality is a social VR platform that provides safe spaces for therapy and support, soft skills development, and other interpersonal activities like real time collaboration and live simulations. Please visit our website for more information or to schedule a demo.

Industry News, Soft Skills, Therapy and Support

More Than Meets the Eye: Meta’s Haptic Glove

Virtual reality has traditionally been viewed as a technology that allows users to immerse themselves in computer-generated environments, giving them the opportunity to experience a vast number of scenarios and surroundings. Until recently, VR software only offered the ability to stimulate two senses: sight and sound. Various attachments have attempted to close this gap between fiction and reality by adding a smell or taste component, but the one sense that hasn’t been properly addressed, and is perhaps the most vital to addressing this gap, is touch. Enter: Meta’s haptic glove.

The haptic glove prototype offers the sensation of touching or holding objects in virtual reality. This is achieved with the help of hundreds of actuators – small inflatable motors that mimic the feeling of pressure. Meta is working to improve the functionality of this feature by enabling the glove to detect exactly where you are in a virtual field, how close you are in proximity to an object, as well as the physical properties of various objects. Meta Research Director Sean Keller believes in the large impact this will have: “We use our hands to communicate with others, to learn about the world, and to take action within it. We can take advantage of a lifetime of motor learning if we can bring full hand presence into AR and VR. People could touch, feel, and manipulate virtual objects just like real objects — all without having to learn a new way of interacting with the world.” 

Don’t get too excited though – this glove is years from being market ready. RL Research Process Engineer, Katherine Healy, addresses the manufacturing difficulties Meta is facing, considering the gloves are being individually assembled by skilled engineers. “We use semi-automated processes where we can, but manufacturing these gloves at scale will require the invention of new manufacturing processes,” Healy mentions. Despite these setbacks, VR technology is predicted to become widely accessible in coming years.

Haptic technology isn’t necessarily new to the market, it just hasn’t been widely available to the public, nor has it attracted the interest of people other than serious gamers or movie producers. It’s taken years for the public to welcome the idea that VR technology has more practical uses than just gaming or entertainment. 

Though initial applications may focus on gaming and hard skills training, areas like therapy and support, soft skills training, and real time collaboration will also benefit. With this glove, you’ll be able to realistically manipulate 3D product prototypes, shake hands while practicing mock job interviews, and make realistic, genuine connections with other people through the sensation of touch during therapy and support sessions. 

Foretell Reality is a social VR platform for therapy and support, soft skill training, and real time collaboration. We employ current technologies such as hand tracking and are constantly extending our capabilities to support the latest headsets and accessories. To learn more or schedule a demo, click here.

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