During the vMed 2023 conference hosted by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, mental healthcare professionals discussed the role of medical extended reality in treating mental health conditions and the associated risks and benefits of virtual treatment. Dr. Brenda Wiederhold, clinical psychologist and cofounder of the Virtual Reality Medical Center, highlighted the opportunities and challenges of transitioning from virtual reality to XR health to the metaverse.
While Wiederhold is optimistic about the potential of medical XR, she stresses the importance of oversight and regulations to avoid tech companies solely self-policing. Building upon past successes and failures, medical XR must be developed realistically.
Medical XR is utilized to expose patients to the environment that provokes their anxiety and fear, with the aim of helping them confront and overcome their emotional and cognitive responses. However, individualized VR experiences differ from person to person, which means that emotional processing and long-term efficacy vary too. Therefore, it is crucial for patients to apply their VR-learned skills in real-world situations to obtain meaningful benefits.
VR is not intended to replace mental health providers, but to be used as a tool by them. Studies have demonstrated VR’s efficacy in treating depression by using a behavioral activation approach that emphasizes how behaviors influence emotions.
Insights from vMed 2023 Conference
At the vMed 2023 conference hosted by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, speakers discussed the potential benefits and risks of using medical extended reality (medical XR) for mental healthcare. Dr. Brenda Wiederhold, a clinical psychologist and cofounder of the Virtual Reality Medical Center, cautioned that while she is optimistic about the potential of medical XR, some oversight is necessary to ensure that tech companies do not police themselves.
Dr. Margot Paul, a postdoctoral scholar of psychiatry at the Stanford School of Medicine, described how her study showed that VR was clinically significant and feasible in decreasing major depressive disorder. Skip Rizzo, psychologist and director of medical virtual reality at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies, emphasized the importance of breaking down barriers to care and training medical providers to use VR for mental healthcare. While the metaverse has potential to make care more accessible and reduce stigma, Rizzo stressed that a good part of the clinical benefit comes from the therapeutic alliance with a human being.