One area where AR and VR are already showing immense promise is in the treatment of a range of mental disorders. By allowing patients to interact and experiment with new or stressful environments, both AR and VR act as powerful facilitators of personal change, enabling the disruption of complex thoughts and feelings. This has proven beneficial in the treatment of mood disorders, paranoia, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
In a study of 30 patients suffering from severe paranoid delusions, researchers at Oxford University combined VR with traditional psychological therapies to reduce paranoia-based fear. The patients were placed in simulated situations that mirrored typical anxiety-inducing scenes, such as being surrounded by people in an elevator or on a train. Some patients were told to lower their defenses entirely and approach the people around them. Other were permitted to use their normal defenses. At the end of the testing day, 50 percent of those in the first group reported a marked reduction in their severe paranoia, as did around 20 percent of the second group. While the study looked at a small sample, it is indicative of the work that can be done.
Mental health professionals have been using immersive experiences for years to combat mental disorders, but new advances within AR and VR can enhance traditional therapies by allowing patients to confront difficult situations in safe environments.