Virtual reality therapy: improving poor mental health

30th May 2023
Sheryl Miles

Poor mental health is something that every person encounters at some stage in their lives, and it affects everyone differently. 

According to MIND, one in four people in England experience a mental health problem each year, and one in six experience anxiety and depression weekly, and the Office of National Statistics (ONS) reports that approximately 16% of adults have experienced symptoms of depression due to the rising cost of living.

By harnessing the power of virtual reality (VR) to create immersive and controlled environments that simulate real-life scenarios, virtual reality therapy (VRT) can allow individuals to confront their fears in a safe and controlled way – whether it is anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or debilitating phobias, VRT can offer an alternative treatment.

VRT: an alternative to traditional treatment

VRT revolves around a virtual world, usually via a headset, and a licensed therapist conducts the sessions. During these sessions, the user is guided through experiences which are specifically designed to give them the tools and coping strategies to rehabilitate and recover in real life.


Phobias are intense and irrational fears of specific objects, situations, or activities. Traditional treatments can often involve gradual exposure therapy, where individuals are incrementally exposed to their fears in real-life settings. However, this approach can be challenging and may not always be feasible. VRT provides an alternative solution, enabling individuals to confront their phobias within a controlled, virtual environment.


Anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety or generalised anxiety disorder, can also be addressed through VRT. The immersive nature of VR allows therapists to recreate anxiety-provoking situations in a controlled setting. Individuals can practice coping strategies, challenge negative thought patterns, and gradually build their confidence and resilience in a safe and supportive environment.


VRT also has potential in the treatment of PTSD, a debilitating condition that arises from experiencing or witnessing traumatic events. By recreating these events or environments, therapists can guide individuals through exposure therapy, helping them process and desensitise themselves from their traumatic memories. VRT can provide a sense of control over the environment, allowing therapists to tailor the intensity of the exposure to each individual's needs.

Sessions do not always have to involve completely immersive experiences, they can be computer-generated environments where an avatar is used, and individuals or groups talk to each other in a way that is safe, anonymous, and non-invasive.

While VRT holds immense promise, it is essential to acknowledge that it is not a standalone treatment. It should be used as part of a comprehensive therapeutic approach, involving the expertise of trained mental health professionals. And whilst early studies indicate that it is an effective treatment, ongoing research and advancements in technology are necessary to ensure its effectiveness and long-term benefits.

VRT technology

Virtual reality headsets

VR headsets are the primary hardware used in VRT. The head-mounted displays (HMDs) are worn by individuals, and they provide a visual and auditory immersive experience. They typically consist of a high-resolution display for each eye, built-in sensors for head tracking, and integrated headphones or speakers for audio feedback.

Motion tracking systems

To enhance the sense of presence and interaction, VRT often incorporates sensors or cameras to track the movements of the user's body or specific body parts, allowing actions to be translated into the virtual environment. This technology enables users to interact with virtual objects, navigate virtual spaces, and engage in therapeutic activities.

Controllers and input devices

VRT can integrate the use of handheld controllers or other input devices to allow users to interact with the virtual environment. These devices can track hand movements, or gestures, providing a way for users to manipulate objects, perform actions, and engage in therapy-specific tasks. Examples of input devices include handheld motion controllers, and haptic gloves.

Computer systems

Virtual reality applications require powerful computer systems to render and process the complex graphics and simulations in real-time. These systems typically consist of high-performance processors, graphics cards, and sufficient memory to deliver a responsive virtual experience. VR therapy software is run on these computers, generating the virtual environments, and responding to the user's actions in real-time.

Software and virtual environments

VRT relies on specialised software and virtual environments that are tailored for therapeutic purposes. These environments are designed to replicate real-world situations, phobic stimuli, or trauma-related scenarios. They can include scenarios such as heights, public speaking, combat zones, or virtual replicas of traumatic events. The software also integrates therapeutic protocols, feedback mechanisms, and data collection tools to assist therapists in guiding the therapy process and monitoring progress.

The integration of these technologies allows VRT to create realistic and immersive experiences for therapeutic purposes. By combining visual, auditory, and interactive elements, VRT offers individuals the opportunity to engage in exposure therapy, practice coping skills, and gradually overcome their fears or traumas within a controlled and supportive virtual environment.

Find out how VR is revolutionising PTSD treatment here.

Featured products

Product Spotlight

Upcoming Events

View all events
Latest global electronics news
© Copyright 2023 Electronic Specifier