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The Power of VR Therapy Unveiled!



Have you ever turned down a vacation because you don’t like flying? Or maybe denied a road trip because driving is scary? Or perhaps you despise going into your basement due to those pesky, freaky spiders. Or maybe you’re like me and threw a book through a bedroom door because a centipede was walking across it (true story, I had to buy a new door and everything). Fear has a nasty habit of running our lives. And, to make things even more tricky, overcoming fears is hard as, well, you gotta do the thing you’re afraid of, and often alone. I mean, its not like you can take your therapist on a plane, right? But now there is a way- cue baller music Virtual Reality enters the chat!  Ok, but seriously, VR is a straight up professional tool that we at Interna Mental Health are using to help peeps overcome their fears. Lets dive in a bit more, shall we?


Virtual Reality has been around for a hot minute at this point, but only in recent years has it been a truly viable piece of technology. But when most people think of VR, they often think of games or cheesy experiences that you can have at the Mall of America. We here at Interna have a… different perspective. Technology is always advancing (sometimes at a faster pace than we can actually understand it, but I digress), and we as helpers need to use technology to better connect with and help others. So, yes, historically VR has been seen as a video game or a nerdy thing, but its also a tool that we can use to make some serious, lasting changes.

 

But this is only a toy, right? There’s no way this could actually work. Umm, ahckually it’s a highly immersive tool that allows us to recreate specific, highly detailed experiences. Physical therapists, memory care facilities, even firefighters and other first responders have been using VR in a wide variety of ways, ranging from different therapies to training. 


But its fake! How does this work? Well, you see, while our brains are massively complex organs, they’re also incredibly dumb and easy to trick. Want to see for yourself? Look up some videos of people trying Richie’s Plank Experience for the first time (no, we’re not going to start with you standing on a plank on the top of a skyscraper. Though that was my first experience in VR…). The high fidelity of modern VR equipment makes the experiences seem even more real. TLDR- you know its fake, but that doesn’t matter; your brain thinks its real. 


What about motion sickness? I’ve heard people projectile vomit from VR. I’m not going to lie, this is a possibility. The very first time I tried VR I got super duper nauseous and had to stop real fast. But this was back in 2014 or so; the technology has come a long, long way since then. Higher frame rates, wider field of view, higher resolution, better tracking, and so on have all improved the VR experience.  Its to the point where I can be in VR for a few hours, no problem. Beyond this, we move at your pace. And just like we can trick your brain into thinking VR is real, we can also train your brain to be desensitized to VR sickness. 


This all sounds great, but, I mean, you want me to be immersed in spiders or whatever? Naw dude, that’s too much. I can’t stress this enough- we move at your pace. The process is based on systematic desensitization and exposure response prevention methods. This includes creating what we call a “SUDs”, or subjective units of discomfort, ladder. Meaning we figure out a series of steps that are increasingly more distressing. So no, we won’t start with a room full of spiders. Maybe we’d start with one small spider under a glass jar on the countertop. 


Systematic what now? Exposure blah blah blah? What the hell are these things? Great question! These are peer researched backed, effective, proven therapies for reducing or eliminating fear responses. Systematic desensitization was one of the first therapies for extinguishing fear responses and really paved the way for other current therapies such as EMDR, brainspotting, and so on. In creating this program we pulled no less than 33 peer reviewed research papers from the last 5 years. TLDR- this shit works, and we can prove it. 


I’m intrigued… what ages do you work with? So, remember when I said that sometimes technology advances faster than we can understand it? This is the case with VR and developing brains; we don’t really understand yet how VR can affect a youngin. For that reason we are working with humans aged 14+.


And what sort of fears can you work with? Yeah, so, we can do a lot. We have well over 150 modules and we can get super creative. Some examples are: heights, flying, driving, spiders, snakes, social, public speaking, blood draws, dentists, water, vomit… you get the picture. 


Ok, cool. I’m interested, but this has to be expensive. There’s no way insurance will cover this. GOOD NEWS! We are able to bill insurance, AND you can have a concurrent individual (or relational, or family) therapist. We are also able to do private pay, feel free to contact us for rates. 


Aight, you got me. How do I get hooked up with this? So glad to hear it! The process is super easy. Just click the link below, fill out the form, and someone will be in touch soon!



By: Austin Jacobsen, MA LPCC

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