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Reasons and applications for using virtual reality as a therapeutic tool in the treatment of psychological disorders

Reasons and applications for using virtual reality as a therapeutic tool in the treatment of psychological disorders

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Alice Herbison. Originally submitted for PS4040/Psychology at University of St. Andrews, with lecturer Dr Peter Foldiak in the category of Psychology
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Alice Herbison. Originally submitted for PS4040/Psychology at University of St. Andrews, with lecturer Dr Peter Foldiak in the category of Psychology

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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10/27/2013

 
Undergraduate Award Abstract
This review paper was the single assessed piece of work for a year-longPsychology module. My degree is Psychology with Film Studies (with BritishPsychological Association accreditation) but in addition I am passionate aboutComputer Science, especially Human-Computer Interaction (HCI).In this review module, we were allowed to choose our own topic and I jumpedat the chance to investigate ways in which computer technology can assist in psychological treatments. This module helped foster skills in research and collationof information as we had to undertake searches of varying levels of specificity in psychological journals to ensure our research covered the topic fully. Theinformation we found was then analysed and brief conclusions drawn from what wehad learned.Computer technology is vastly present in everyday life and is relied uponheavily across the globe. It assists in areas such as communication, storage andretrieval of information and numerous business and monetary transactions. Inhealthcare, it permeates administration and aids in surgery and treatment.In the psychology sector, disorders such as phobias are most often treated withgraded exposure therapies conducted by psychologists who work towards alleviating phobic symptoms in their patients through careful repeated encounters with the fearedstimulus. This method of treatment does have a high success rate, but also manydrawbacks and limitations. For example, a fear of flying is difficult to treat withexposure therapy: there are too many variables out of the therapist and patient’scontrol. Practically, it is also dangerous to have a person on board a plane who islikely to react in an uncontrollable and volatile manner should they feel out of their depth. Naturally, repeated flying would also be incredibly expensive. For these
 
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reasons, and others discussed in the paper, using virtual reality (VR) as an appliedtreatment of psychological disorders has notable benefits over normal exposuretechniques. It is completely customizable: every detail of the virtual environment can be manipulated. It also allows the patient to be treated in a place that they know isfundamentally safe. Its success rate at follow-up examinations is just as high asexposure therapies, suggesting that the mind can be suitably tricked into reacting thesame way to virtual stimuli as real ones. While the technology is initially expensive,over the long-run, VR provides a cheaper alternative to
in vivo
exposure methods.My research found that while all this is true, the VR methods employed todaymight not be making the most of the technology currently available. A better-designedgraphic system would be extremely beneficial, and as HCI capabilities are becomingincreasingly advanced, a re-evaluation and re-design of the programs used wouldmake it more realistic and subsequently a more attractive treatment option. It iscurrently not widely used or available.I am especially proud of this paper because I put a lot of effort into it andachieved a first-class grade. I also very much enjoyed the research and learning aboutan area of computer technology which previously I knew little about.499 words.Keywords:
virtual reality, exposure therapy, psychology
 
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Reasons and applications for using virtual reality as a therapeutic tool in thetreatment of psychological disorders
4966 words

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