Using Virtual Reality Therapy to Treat Social Anxiety

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Being social is part of a human being, yet, some communicate more openly than others.

In the US alone, around 75% – or 15 million adults – of the population has been diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder

Also known as SAD, Social Anxiety Disorder can be treated through various methods, some more traditional and others, more advanced.

Speaking of advanced SAD treatments, Virtual Reality Therapy has shown remarkable effects in neutralizing the symptoms of social anxiety and diminishing fear of interacting. 

To learn how VR Therapy for social anxiety works, read our elaborate guide. 

Defining Social Anxiety Disorder:

Social Anxiety Disorder is quite a complex mental health condition in which a person is continuously afraid of social gatherings, social interactions.

Typically, a person diagnosed with SAD will experience inexplicable fear of having to communicate with others, mostly due to possible judgment on their part. 

Whenever those suffering from SAD feel exposed or jeopardized socially, they tend to withdraw and become introverted, bringing their social interactions close to zero – as the only viable method of isolation and self-perseverance

Thankfully, suitable therapies for SAD exist, and VR therapy for social anxiety has separated itself as a leading treatment for the condition.

What is Virtual Reality Therapy?

Virtual Reality Therapy is the latest course of treatment trusted by a handful of therapists and experts worldwide.

At its essence, VR therapy uses lifelike visuals to create a usually socially awkward situation for the person diagnosed with SAD.

Once put in their visual surroundings – via the VR headset – those suffering from social anxiety can find a more suitable technique to overcome their fear without having to do so in real life.

In a way, this form of therapy engages the mind to prepare itself for all possible social triggers that may cause anxiety – and resolve them efficiently

VR therapy is divided into two main types – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Exposure Therapy.

Depending on the patient and their diagnosis, both approaches can be used to treat social anxiety – whether individually, simultaneously, or consecutively. 

How Virtual Reality Therapy Helps with SAD?

Virtual Reality therapy can assist in treating a variety of health conditions, such as labor pains, schizophrenia, fear, and, of course, social anxiety.

To achieve outstanding results in treating SAD patients, VR therapy requires the individual to wear a VR headset and immerse themselves in a virtual social scenario.

The created scenario will feature various avatars of other individuals, as well as the patient, and put them all in a simulated surrounding.

Here, the patient will be exposed to a socially awkward or anxious situation and be given the chance to battle their fear without losing control over the situation or withdrawing. 

Virtual reality social anxiety therapy is often done in stages, the extensiveness of which will ultimately depend on the severity of the disorder.

Typically, the therapist will initiate mild exposure of the patient, putting them face to face with all their fears, and, to them, an uncomfortable setting. Once initial progress is made, the intensity of the therapy will expand. 

To treat SAD, many experts turn to the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) approach. The approach itself pays special attention to altering one’s anxious thoughts, ideas, and concepts, all through presenting functional coping mechanisms to regulate the patient’s behavioral and emotional patterns.  Virtual reality therapy for anxiety disorders has been proven to be quite successful.

For one, it assists patients in reducing their stress levels and controls their stress response in socially anxious situations.

By using virtual reality therapy for social anxiety, the therapist will not only help the patient overcome their fear of socializing, but will also uncover or diagnose any other underlying psychological conditions that might be affecting the patient’s overall mental wellbeing. 

Benefits of VR Therapy in Treating Social Anxiety Disorder

Aside from the aforementioned, there are many other perks of using VR therapy to treat SAD, including: 

  • Diminished stress response in the patient when exposed to a virtual social situation
  • More affordable than other treatments 
  • More accessible than remaining SAD treatments, can be performed even online
  • Does not include therapist talks and discussions, only a genuine experience
  • Eliminates social anxiety alongside stress, fear, discomfort, and uncertainty  
  • Offers a safer environment for the patient, instead of forcing them to face a real-life situation and trigger

Virtual Therapy for Social Anxiety: A Final Word

Virtual reality therapy can be a far safer and more efficient course of treatment in SAD patients compared to a genuine and real-life treatment.

The reason behind this is obvious – by using virtual reality therapy for social anxiety disorders, the patient will feel far safer, more comfortable, and less stressed in handling his virtual social obstacles.

John S. - Editor in Chief
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