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Lifestyle, Tech, 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.

Therapy and Support, Uncategorized

Mayo Clinic Guide to Support Groups

This recent article from the Mayo Clinic is a great resource for those considering joining a support group. It provides succinct information including benefits, risks, questions to ask, and the pros and cons of online versus in-person sessions.

Through our secure platform, Foretell Reality brings a higher degree of focus, presence, and anonymity to online support groups through Virtual Reality (VR) environments designed to foster meaningful therapeutic connections.

One example is our partner XRHealth who is bringing patients together with similar ailments in moderated VR support groups to discuss their experiences, treatments, and challenges.

With more people feeling isolated and alone, support groups can provide comfort and connections that improve mood and as sense of purpose and belonging.

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

Collaboration, Therapy and Support

Collaborative Data Analysis: Foretell Reality and D6

https://www.d6vr.io/

D6 develops tools to support multi-dimensional data visualization in Virtual Reality (VR). The platform allows analysts and others to visualize and manipulate complex data in 3D space, deriving insights that are faster, more powerful, and more memorable.

Through an integration with Foretell Reality, D6 was able to turn its single-user experience into one that allows shared data visualization workspaces in which clients and colleagues around the globe can present, discuss, and manipulate multidimensional graphs and charts as a group.

In addition to these shared data visualization spaces, D6’s “Hyperdesk” frees teams of remote analysts from the limits of a physical workspace. Colleagues can move between multiple customizable “Data Rooms,” with unlimited virtual monitor space, and integration of both traditional keyboard/mouse and hand gesture inputs.

As demonstrated by D6, collaboration in virtual reality not only overcomes geographic constraints, but even the limitations imposed by the physical world. Where else can remote team members collectively analyze three-dimensional data or view multiple screens at once while truly feeling like they are in the presence of their colleagues?

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

Therapy and Support

Behavioral Assessment in VR

We are starting to see more studies about the efficacy of #VirtualReality (#VR) for mental health assessment. The ability to analyze behavioral data in a variety of scenarios distinguishes VR from other digital #telehealth technologies.

#ForetellReality analytics provide behavioral data tied to social engagement including time spent speaking, direction of gaze, and who is talking to and/or over other participants. We do not store this or any other personal data to ensure HIPPA compliance, but we do make they analytics available to our moderators, clinicians, and therapists to help them personalize and improve outcomes.

Here is what one large-scale study from last month concluded about VR assessment for #mentalheath :

“Automatic data capture of behaviors and signals from VR experiences can reveal important insights that might improve our understanding of mental health conditions and inform more tailored treatments.”

Read more here:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7366939/

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

Therapy and Support

‘Zoom Fatigue’, Teletherapy, and VR

A recent survey from the American Psychological Association finds that 76% of clinicians are conducting all of their sessions through teletherapy while only 16% are doing a combination of remote and in-person sessions.

While telehealth provides great benefits like convenience and flexibility and can embolden patients to open up even more than they might in person, there are drawbacks. With many people constantly on video calls for school and work, a phenomenon known as ‘Zoom fatigue’ can result in patients not feeling fully present in a conversation and that can require therapists to be extra vigilant in driving conversations.

Virtual Reality (VR) can combat ‘Zoom fatigue’ by offering a much more immersive experience. This is particularly effective for group therapy and support. Unlike telehealth visits through a phone or laptop, VR provides an immersive, distraction-free experience in which remote support group attendees and therapy clients interact with one another through personalized, expressive avatars in shared, 3D environments.

Embodying a virtual identity provides anonymity, if desired, and eliminates fears of being judged by appearance while still allowing for human-like gestures, directional gazing, manipulation of objects, and movement within space.

Group conversation flows more freely in VR allowing therapists to observe both verbal and non verbal cues in ways they cannot through a webcam. VR allows for interactions between people like handing someone a virtual tissue or a providing a comforting touch on the shoulder.

While applications like Zoom work well for certain kinds of communication, therapeutic interactions benefit from the authenticity and realism found in VR.

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

Therapy and Support

VR To Combat Stress and Anxiety

A nice summary in Forbes of how various companies are offering Virtual Reality (VR) treatments to help people cope with anxiety and stress during these challenging times. Among them is our partner XRHealth.

While the individual VR treatments highlighted in the article can certainly help alleviate stress and anxiety, they do not address the feeling of isolation that often accompanies these feelings.

That is why XRHealth chose Foretell Reality to also provide safe, therapeutic environments where remote participants can meet to share their experiences as part of a moderated support group.

Free from distraction, participants embody life-like avatars that combine authentic human gestures and expressions with the sense of being in the physical presence of others.

At Foretell Reality, we believe that individual VR treatment combined with group support and therapy is a truly holistic approach to tackling a variety of mental health challenges, particularly with so many people now struggling and in isolation.

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

Therapy and Support

VR as a Tool for Empathy

Unconscious bias can manifest itself in many different ways. Whether it is racial, gender, or age bias, changing ingrained perceptions starts with empathy and the willingness to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Though not a magic bullet, Virtual Reality (VR) can help by immersing people into experiences from the point of view of someone else.

A recent example is a 12 minute VR film that immerses viewers in the life of a fictional African American man as he encounters racism as a child, adolescent, and adult. Courtney Cogburn, an assistant professor at Columbia’s School of Social Work, is one of the filmmakers.

“We wanted people to have a visceral sense of what this feels like,” she said. “It’s more likely to trigger empathy, and to help you understand the scope and nature of racism and racial inequality in our society.”

Getting people together in VR to role play real life scenarios while embodying the role of different genders, ages, and races is another way to build empathy. It is one of the applications that Foretell Reality supports through customizable, life-like avatars that can interact with one another within virtual spaces that simulate real world scenarios.

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

Therapy and Support

Virtual Therapy Needs Virtual Reality

In these challenging times, more and more patients are turning to virtual therapy. So much so that TalkSpace, a leading telemental health platform that lets patients connect with licensed therapists, has seen a 65% increase in the last month or so.

While there are obvious reasons for an increase in remote therapy given the pandemic, there are also many benefits that will outlast it: not having to travel to an office, not having to take time off from work, not having to make arrangements for childcare while out, and not having to switch doctors if in a different location.

While the benefits of virtual counseling are clear, there are also drawbacks. Sessions over video can be prone to outside distractions, inconsistent video quality, and do not allow for anonymity. Patients and therapists alike may also feel self conscious being on video, particularly in group settings. This is best described by therapist Cynthia Chalker, “You have a mask of invisibility that you impose on yourself, and suddenly you’re seeing yourself seeing your patient, and it’s disconcerting, to say the least. ‘I look like that?’”

Virtual Reality(VR) offers an alternative to video, chat, or audio by creating an immersive feeling of presence free from outside distractions. All participants occupy the same three-dimensional space in the form of virtual avatars. Those who wish to remain anonymous can do so while still retaining a tangible identity. Avatars also allow for group role play and realistic environments can be used to place patients into challenging situations in order to surface memories under the guidance of a therapist.

Just as with other telehealth platforms, virtual reality platforms designed for individual and group therapy are both secure and HIPAA compliant. For example, XRHealth, a VR telehealth company that leverages Foretell Reality for support groups, is both HIPPA compliant and is covered by Medicare and most major insurance providers.

Therapy is an experience that can be difficult to replicate virtually. Ricardo Rieppi, a therapist practicing in New York City speaks about this, “there’s an embodiment that happens when you’re with a person. As therapists, we use our own counter-transference, our watchful, hovering empathy, to do our work. That’s difficult online. All the minutiae, my going out, meeting them at the door, their taking a chair or the couch—you don’t have that anymore. And I’m seeing the patients in their own home.”

If Rieppi were to use virtual reality, he may find more of the embodiment he is seeking. VR can enhance empathy, increase eye contact, and most importantly, allow users to feel present with one another.

With more and more people seeking mental help while remote, the limitations of video, chat, and audio alone are becoming apparent. Virtual reality offers more authentic human interactions in engaging, immersive, and distraction free environments.

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

Therapy and Support

3 STUDIES IN 3 MINUTES: VR & MENTAL HEALTH

There are hundreds of studies about the effectiveness of virtual reality (VR) in treating a variety of psychological ailments. These three studies were all chosen from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Library of Medicine and were published in the past 12 months.

Given how fast VR technology is moving, accessibility and the experiences available during these studies (many conducted in 2018) was significantly behind where it is today.

In addition to summarizing the study and findings, I provide rationale for continuing the study with the current generation of VR.

Study #1: Improving Mood and Emotional Well-Being

Published early this year (prior to COVID-19), this study seeks to answer the question of whether simulated nature environments can provide the same level of emotional well-being as an actual outdoor experience.

Healthy undergraduate students walked for 6 minutes in the woods while others viewed 360-degree nature videos in virtual reality of the same outdoor setting.

Skin conductivity, restorativeness, and mood before and after exposure were measured and compared between the two groups.

The study found that both types of nature exposure increase physiological arousal, benefit positive mood levels, and both were restorative compared to an indoor setting without nature.

Though outdoor exposure still provided a greater degree of benefit to mood than virtual reality, the study concludes that in areas where access to the outdoors is limited or not possible, virtual reality exposure provides tangible benefits.

Given this study was published prior to COVID-19, it takes on greater relevance today and it would be very interesting to see a broader test group as well as a more immersive VR experience than just 360 video. Moreover, the ability to take a walk with someone else (even a therapist) could be particularly powerful especially in times of isolation.

Link to study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6974516/

Study #2: Treating Specific Phobia, Social Phobia and Agoraphobia

This study reviewed nine previous studies through June 2019 which compared the effectiveness of in vivo methods of treating Specific Phobia, Social Phobia and Agoraphobia versus virtual reality treatments, specifically exposure therapy.

The study defined the disorders above as follows:

“Patients with Specific Phobia fear specific situations or objects such as animals, heights, thunder, darkness or closed spaces. Social Phobia patients report fear of scrutiny by other people, which leads to an avoidance of social situations. Agoraphobia is characterized by a fear of situations in which fleeing from the situation or help is not easily accessible, such as crowds in public spaces, leaving home, entering shops, or traveling alone in a train, bus or plane.”

Based on reviewing the nine previous studies, the authors concluded that there was “no evidence that VR exposure is significantly less efficacious than in vivo exposure in Specific Phobia and Agoraphobia. The wide range of study specific effect sizes, especially in Social Phobia, indicates a high potential of VR, but also points to the need for a deeper investigation and empirical examination of relevant working mechanisms.”

Regarding social phobia, the study goes on to suggest that “a combination of VR exposure with cognitive interventions and the realization of virtual social interactions targeting central fears might be advantageous. Considering the advantages of VR exposure, its dissemination should be emphasized. Improvements in technology and procedures might even yield superior effects in the future.”

Given advancements of the past 12 months, we now have the ability for a therapist to easily enter a social VR experience with their patient in order to provide real-time cognitive interventions during the treatment experience.

Similarly, role play and other group therapy exercises are much more accessible requiring only a standalone headset and internet connection. In light of these advances, a new study revisiting social phobia treatment should be considered.

Link to study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6746888/

Study #3: Support Groups in VR

Using a 38-item survey which itself was based on a previous randomized trial, this study asked amputee support group attendees to answer a series of questions over a period of months.

The intent of the study was to both understand what participants were seeking in a support group as well as what technologies they would be open to using for remote meetings.

Specifically, the researchers were interested the efficacy of “virtual technology in improving amputee support group engagement.” Virtual technology was defined as follows:

“Characteristics of virtual worlds include persistence, anonymity, 24/7 access to individuals globally, and virtual embodiment [8]. Persistence is the ability of the virtual environment to continue to operate, use, and collect data irrespective of whether individuals are interacting with it via their avatars [8]. Virtual worlds are anonymous because the use of avatars allows the user to mask their identity, which includes the ability to alter their age, gender, physical appearance, and other characteristics including disabilities. Virtual worlds allow amputees to interact globally, overcoming geographic limitations and isolation. Virtual embodiment allows users to interact with their virtual geography including other individuals and objects in the environment and in the virtual world [10]. In other words, the virtual world environment may allow people to participate in support group sessions with a level of access and anonymity that is not possible in a face-to-face support group setting.”

Study participants were provided with an avatar and social virtual environments but did not attend an actual support group. Instead, they were asked about what technology they would use to attend a meeting – Teleconferencing, Video Conferencing or Virtual Technology.

The results revealed that 60% of respondents between ages 20-39 were somewhat or very likely to participate in a virtual amputee support group and over 30% of those age 39-59 said the same. This was higher than video conferencing and slightly lower than teleconferencing.

Given that this study was an exploration of what is needed to create a strong support group as well as what role technology could play in it, the logical next step would be to make VR technology available to those who felt they would benefit from it.

More importantly, the study was conducted in 2018 using 2D virtual environments rather than the immersive 3D social virtual reality that is readily available today. A follow up survey with this same group after attending VR support groups would be very informative.

Link to Study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6777423/

Foretell Reality is a VR platform for professional communication and business collaboration.

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