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Virtual Reality for Emotional Healing

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Alex Rivera

Chief Editor at EduNow.me

Virtual Reality for Emotional Healing

VR provides the capability of creating realistic environments in virtual reality that closely resemble real life, which has proven beneficial for treating many different disorders, including anxiety and phobias.

EMDR therapy is one such approach, providing patients with a way of working through individual traumatic memories and events by using eye movements as part of the healing process.


VR can help clients work through difficult memories and emotions by giving them control of their environments. Therapists using this technology can design immersive experiences tailored to each client; for instance, an object they fear may become something less scary in this way reducing anxiety levels while making life more manageable in reality.

EMDR is an evidence-based approach that has been shown to effectively treat anxiety disorders like panic disorder and phobias; depression disorders including major depressive disorder and illness-related depression; eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa; dissociative disorders like dissociative identity disorder or amnesia; trauma conditions like posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); dissociative disorders including dissociative identity disorder or amnesia; dissociative identity disorder or amnesia; trauma conditions like post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD (see below). Furthermore, attachment disorders, personality disorders, personality disorders and substance abuse problems may all benefit from treatment by means of this approach.

While VR may provide one way of treating grief, it must be combined with traditional therapeutic pathways and under the supervision of qualified health professionals in order to be effective. Bereaved individuals need safe environments where interventions address specific emotional concerns.

VR experiences featured in a documentary provided a powerful virtual stimulus–an avatar representing a lost child. While cognitive empathy requires mental processing to elicit, research suggests VR may also elicit emotional empathy without this effort being required from users.

This research indicates that future virtual reality applications for griefing should focus on recreating natural scenes in their patient’s environment, which has been shown to promote increased levels of emotional empathy. Psychophysiological monitoring systems should also be integrated into VR interventions to ensure they do not expose patients to additional stressors or trigger negative retraumatization – similar to how adaptative physiological systems are utilized by therapists for treating phobias, PTSD or other psychological conditions.

Exposure Therapy

Virtual reality (VR) exposure therapy offers one effective approach to treating anxiety disorders. Clients are placed in an immersive environment in which they can safely face their fears and confront them without feeling threatened, making this method especially helpful in treating phobias, but can also be applied for depression and social anxiety treatment – one company is using VR with children who experience social anxiety by having them interact with animated bullies in virtual school hallways.

VR can also be used to promote empathy toward various groups of people, such as refugees, the elderly and victims of domestic violence or bullying. While VR is effective at increasing cognitive empathy levels, its success at invoking emotional empathy may vary; cognitive empathy requires mentalizing effort whereas emotional empathy may be automatically triggered by engaging scenes typical in VR experiences.

While this research is encouraging, it’s essential to remember that VR is still relatively new as an instrument of grieving and trauma treatment. Therefore, any VR experience that involves exposure to grieving or traumatic content should be overseen by a health professional to assess any possible harms or benefits as well as help guide clients on a healthy journey forward.

VR has long been used in mental health to treat military veterans suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Over the last 20 years, several programs have been developed that expose users to wartime scenarios, including firing weapons or entering combat zones; one such program called Bravemind was created by Skip Rizzo, a USC professor who has spent two decades researching, testing, and creating VR software specifically tailored towards treating veterans suffering PTSD (Rothbaum & Rizzo 2017).

Immersive therapy utilizes immersive environments to safely present clients with anxiety-inducing stimuli in a controlled setting, and has proven useful for treating everything from phobias and autism, to schizophrenia (where virtual environments simulate it by simulating symptoms such as hearing voices echo in one’s head; Viscira 2019). Such programs are being combined with traditional treatments like talk therapy and medications in an attempt to maximize results.


Virtual reality (VR) has proven an effective tool in treating numerous mental health conditions, from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety disorders to phobias and panic disorder, VR is helping people face their fears in a safe and controlled environment. Exposure therapy, an increasingly popular VR application, employs immersive experiences to help overcome trauma-inducing memories or anxieties; exposure therapy has proved particularly successful when treating PTSD; however traditional treatments often prove ineffective against this form of emotional trauma.

Researchers are investigating VR as an intervention for other conditions, including phobias, depression and autism. Some studies have used virtual reality to simulate schizophrenia; this enables those without it to experience what life might be like for someone living with this illness. VR can also be used in the workplace to help employees manage stress levels more effectively and increase focus.

BehaVR sells headsets equipped with therapeutic software designed specifically to aid children experiencing social anxiety; its software features an animated bully who asks children for money by saying things such as, “Give me your lunch money!” Many companies are now creating therapeutic VR software and headsets. Some are designed for medical professionals while others target consumers directly; behaVR is an example of such company selling therapeutic VR programs and headsets directly. For instance, medical professionals may buy them, while behaVR primarily targets consumers directly. For instance, behaVR sells therapeutic program equipped headsets with software specifically tailored specifically for children dealing with social anxiety; the software features an animated bully who says things like, “Give me your lunch money”.

Some VR experiences are designed to foster empathy by inviting participants to watch videos featuring individuals experiencing suffering. Although this approach has proven successful in increasing emotional rather than cognitive empathy, the effect may only extend as far as emotional improvements; VR takes away much of the mentalizing burden from users and may evoke enough emotions that the rush of emotions that occurs while watching these videos may suffice in increasing it without additional mentalization effort needed.

However, recent meta-analysis suggest VR may not be ideal for increasing cognitive aspects of empathy that require conscious mentalizing efforts (Martingano et al., 2020). This finding aligns with a dual process model of empathy in which different forms differ in terms of ease of arousal.

Future research should explore whether preexisting levels of dispositional empathy affect how much VR improves empathetic responses, as well as test the effect of different types of virtual environments like semi-immersive vs fully immersive ones, such as semi-immersive versus fully immersive virtual environments, etc. Results of such studies will allow researchers to assess whether VR could serve as a therapeutic approach for grieving.


VR’s power lies in its ability to tap into our brains on both digital and analog levels. Therapists can use virtual environments like VR to evoke specific emotions in patients and help them process those emotions; one study in which a man grieving over his wife used VR to return him back home and say goodbye again, something he had been unable to do due to trauma and depression; this created a powerful emotional experience, especially because VR could be activated at any time for maximum impact.

VR’s capacity to elicit empathy is being investigated as part of its therapeutic value. A recent meta-analysis demonstrated that experiences that included information on suffering of groups like children, the elderly, refugees and victims of domestic violence or bullying elicited both cognitive and automatic emotional empathy responses. These experiences may help people realize that their emotions toward others are real; yet it remains unknown whether VR can impact on preexisting levels of empathy.

VR can provide a safe, controlled environment in which patients can confront their anxieties and traumas in a safe, controlled manner. For example, someone afraid of flying can use virtual reality (VR) to simulate flights and gradually build tolerance over time – this may prove more successful than traditional exposure therapy that may involve experiencing the situation directly in real life – for confronting anxiety and traumas in this way.

VR has quickly emerged as an effective therapy tool, helping patients overcome emotional trauma and build resilience. As more research on its effects on the brain is conducted, virtual reality may become part of our toolbox for treating mental health conditions; but we must remember that VR does not replace therapy and should instead continue assessing and supporting patient needs.

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