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    By: Peggy Burke

    When you think of Virtual Reality (VR), you might think of video games or entertainment, but it is being used for so much more today! VR is getting used more and more in therapy practices and research, specifically right here at Vital Start!

    VR uses real-time computer graphics, body tracking devices, visual displays, and other sensory components to immerse a person in computer-generated environments that can move as a person moves (Rothbaum, et.al., 1999). This technology replaces the real environment with a completely virtual one! To start a VR scenario, you put on special goggles and get completely immersed in a new environment. Do you want to walk on a beach or through a rainforest? VR can make that happen for you and make it feel as if you are really there in person!

    So how can VR help with therapy? Good question! The American Psychological Association (APA) is aboard the VR train and is learning more about how we can this new technology to help people in many different facets. There has been an abundance of research on the usefulness of VR therapy on anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and stress management. Because VR allows a patient to experience and move around in real environments, it can be used to teach coping mechanisms for certain stressful events. By being in a controlled setting, VR technology allows therapists to monitor their patients and offer coaching throughout anxiety-inducing experiences (Riva, et.al., 2016). Being in a VR scenario allows a person to be fully engrossed in their therapy sessions by connecting with their emotions more deeply because they are in such a real experience (Weir, 2018). By participating in these real-world scenarios, patients will be able to identify what they would be thinking and feeling in real-time and learn how to deal with the anxiety and stress. 

    More specifically, why are we using mobile VR? Mobile VR is an affordable option that allows for immersive experiences and a no-hassle headset that is lightweight and easy to use. These high-end VR headsets such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are impressive in their features but as of now, health insurance companies do not reimburse their use (Emarketer.com).

    With maternal health specifically, VR can be used to teach mothers how to handle the stressful moments of pregnancy and motherhood. It can also be used for meditation and relaxation practices. Through these immersive VR scenarios and with the help of a trained coach, mothers can learn how to take on stressful situations head-on and with confidence. VR technology and coaching is a novel idea in maternal health and it is a very exciting and worthwhile experience. 

    Vital Start is committed to enabling services for underrepresented mothers through our platform. These services include growing our free multi-lingual and culturally sensitive services. These services will help prevent biases, provide accessibility, and make care affordable for all of our clients. Check out our mission here!

    References

    Riva, G., Baños, R. M., Botella, C., Mantovani, F., & Gaggioli, A. (2016). Transforming Experience: The Potential of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality for Enhancing Personal and Clinical Change. Frontiers in psychiatry, 7, 164. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2016.00164

    Rothbaum, B. O., Hodges, L., Alarcon, R., Ready, D., Shahar, F., Graap, K., … & Baltzell, D. (1999). Virtual reality exposure therapy for PTSD Vietnam veterans: A case study. Journal of Traumatic Stress: Official Publication of The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, 12(2), 263-271

    Weir, K. (2018). Virtual reality expands its reach. Monit. Psychol, 49, 52.

    Wilson, C. J., & Soranzo, A. (2015). The use of virtual reality in psychology: a case study in visual perception. Computational and mathematical methods in medicine, 2015.)

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