5 Ways Virtual Worlds Can Help Therapy

Virtual reality therapies are increasingly proving successful in a number of settings. As the virtual reality platforms and interfaces improve, we will start to see more of the following:

1. Reducing pain

Pain is partly psychological in nature, which means that distractions can help relieve pain. Listening to music, for example, is one distraction that’s able to help reduce pain. Virtual reality is another distraction that has proven to reduce pain substantially.

One example is in the care of burn victims, who often have to suffer through a great deal of pain. The virtual reality game SnowWorld, for example, has been used to help children and wounded veterans reduce perceived pain, reduce need for anesthesia, and improve healing and mobility.

2. Offering an alternative to going out

Virtual worlds can offer a way for the handicapped to socialize even when confined to the house. For someone with a painful injury that limits their travel, this can provide a way to negate the effects of isolation and cabin fever.

Virtual worlds also offer a way to participate in normal events, such as concerts or even work meetings, without being hindered by pain from an injury.

The Virtual Ability Island in Second Life, for example, provides support and socializing opportunities for wounded veterans and others.

3. Overcoming phobias

Using virtual reality to help patients overcome fears is a tactic that’s been around for years now, and according to a recent study, is very effective. Patients are confronted by their fears in a safe, virtual environment, and allowed to explore them at their own pace. Although most exposure therapy uses virtual reality, virtual worlds could present a more affordable alternative, while still being safer than real life exposure. A fear of heights could be counteracted by flying around in OpenSim or Second Life, or even visiting grids with lots of tall building. The army, for example, uses virtual therapy to help with PTSD. The exposure therapy helps reduce the emotions related to the traumatic event.

4. Reducing the need for in-person medical visits

Sense.ly is a start-up from California that offers patients another option for health care, featured in a recent news article here. Instead of going in-person to the doctor’s office, patients can instead talk to a digital avatar on their phone or computer. The avatar is emotionally responsive, and can ask or answer simple questions depending on the programming done by the doctor. The software can also collect information from other medical devices. Doctors could have a presence in a virtual world using this software.

5. Aiding physical rehab

Virtual reality games can be helpful in physical rehab. Therapists have reported success with using virtual reality in treating brain injuries and regaining motor skills and help stroke victims regain the ability to walk. Another virtual reality system helped a child with cerebral palsy to gain motion abilities and balance.

As interfaces improve and virtual worlds become more realistic and immersive, the range of applications will only increase.


Amanda Green

Amanda Green is a freelance writer who normally writes on the topics of personal finance and business. She has been writing posts for many years on things like how to fund your start-up or how to maintain your business and career if you suffer a personal injury. Her main goal is to give informational tips to readers. You can read more finance writing by Amanda at paidtwice.com

1 Response

  1. paul.andrew.wilson@gmail.com' Paul says:

    As someone who suffers from a chronic pain condition, I have found virtual worlds help me cope with it. As stated, they can be used as a distraction from the pain, and they offer options for socialization when the pain prevents me from leaving the house.

    Also, it has helped me with physiotherapy in that I can create an animation of an exercise and use that as a 3D reference of the motions. The standard 2D still pictures with arrows to show movement are not the the easiest to follow.

    Another interesting phenomena that can help with pain is something called the “Rubber Hand Illusion”. In this the subject has a rubber hand placed in front of them, then their actual hand is placed near it but hidden from their sight. The rubber hand is then stroked lightly while at the same time the person’s real hand is stroked in the same way. This creates the illusion that the rubber hand is the person’s real hand.

    When something is then done to the rubber hand (eg stabbed) and not to the real hand, the person can feel the “injury” that the rubber hand sustains.

    The reverse of this is possible and can be used to relieve pain. By using a virtual person (avatar) and having the avatar move while the user is imagining themselves moving in that way (without actually moving), the perceived movement and the imagined movement combine to create a type of rubber hand illusion but where the user don’t feel pain. This can act to relieve pain that the user is feeling, and can even be used with people suffering from phantom limb pain.

    So from my position, virtual worlds have helped me to manage my condition, and I can see that in the future they can help more people achieve a degree of Independence and help manage their pain.