“Face your fears.” You’ve heard that before, right? Does it always make sense? What if you’re severely paranoid and need to seek medical treatment? Does it still make sense then? Is it dangerous? Can anything really help?
According to psychiatrists at the University of Oxford, treating patients with severe paranoia with virtual reality (VR) technology works. Paranoia is defined as “unfounded fear that other people deliberately are trying to hurt them,” according to Professor Daniel Freeman. People suffering from this disease find it very hard to be around other people, especially up close. Their core lack of trust leads them to believe other people will harm them.
Patients in the Oxford virtual experience went on seven (virtual) train rides, each time with more people in the train. They also went on a series of elevator rides, again in VR, and again with more people each time. According to Freeman, “the results were remarkable.” In 30 minutes the patients had significant lessening of their paranoia, and, more important, the benefits of the VR experiences transferred to the “real world.”
The equipment used in the Oxford experiment was complex. The people in the test walked around in a large room accompanied by a technician who managed a large braid of cables that trailed from the back of the headset.The next steps are to reduce the size of the technology required to mobile devices and to run full clinical trials.
It’s early days yet in testing the potential benefits of virtual reality in mental health, but the potential for treat people with issues of paranoia is promising.