Virtual reality revolution for mental health treatment


Novel Augmented Reality Technology To Help Teens Struggling with Anxiety. Photo Credit: David Grandmougin on Unsplash

Augmented reality could help treat a growing “mental health pandemic” among Australian teenagers, a study has found.

For the first time, researchers at the University of South Australia are using novel augmented reality technology to deliver cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to teenagers with asthma and anxiety.

Augmented reality superimposes digital information into the real world, and has been used by games such as Pokémon Go.

Although it is known that virtual reality can effectively deliver CBT akin to face-to-face therapy, the method is currently under-utilised, according to University of South Australia biomechanic and lead researcher Kelly Sharrad.

“Unlike virtual reality, you don’t need a headset, you can get the functionality straight from the smart phone,” Ms Sharrad says.

She says about 20 per cent of young people that can benefit from psychological intervention actually seek help, so this type of therapy provides a platform that appeals to the younger generation.

“Young people get most of their information from the Internet and prefer self-help and self-reliance as opposed to professional help,” Ms Sharrad said.

Augmented reality also makes CBT more accessible as it provides information to young people who might not be able to understand written instructions, she says.

University of Western Australia clinical psychologist Dr Lisa Saulsman says CBT is the most evidence based psychological treatment and is widely used form of therapy.

“CBT is an empowering form of therapy as it teaches people skills and strategies to help them be able to think differently and change harmful behaviours in their life,” she says.

Dr Saulsman says that augmented reality CBT is “promising” but the most important thing is how it is adapted for an individual.

“Anyone can start a program but the most important thing is that they continue pursuing it. CBT is not going to make any difference if people don’t keep going,” she said.

Ms Sharrad says augmented reality CBT is cost-effective and can be easily updated and heavily personalised depending on individual’s needs.

The study is still in the early stages and the tools for augmented reality CBT will be released in the following months.