Health

Treating mental health issues with VR

Companies are working to use virtual reality (VR) headsets for mental health therapies to treat phobias, anxiety or addictions.

Some phobias, for instance, can be treated by gradually exposing a patient to his or her worst fear, be it spiders, air travel or enclosed spaces.

TeleSoftas, a Lithuanian firm that develops mobile apps, believes that exposure therapy can easily be achieved from the safety of a health professional's consulting room using the headsets.

Exposure therapies are designed to encourage the individual to enter feared situations, either in the real world or through imagined exercises.

"With VR, you can create audiovisual therapies in a safe environment for phobics," its CEO Algirdas Stonys said at last week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

TeleSoftas recently received European Union funding to finance the development of mental health apps for VR headsets, in collaboration with academics.

Psious, a Spanish start-up, is also in a similar field.

The firm's apps, created three years ago because one of its founders was scared of flying, are for psychotherapists who can download them and use them on VR headsets.

The doctor then chooses an adequate environment.

Psious raised close to a million euros (S$1.5 million) in 2015, and provides the technology to some 600 doctors, mostly in Spain.

Meanwhile, TeleSoftas hopes to eventually be able to offer virtual environments to treat obsessive-compulsive disorders, post-traumatic syndromes, alcoholism or smoking.

Several American start-ups are working on such applications as well. - AFP

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