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Virtual reality therapy could be a mental health gamechanger

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Virtual reality (VR) isn’t just a technological gamechanger but it also can transform the way we tackle mental health problems.

VR is Cheap, user-friendly hardware could help VR therapy go mainstream.

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Studies and researchers have been developing virtual reality systems that help people overcome specific phobias since the 1990s.

VR therapy has expanded since then and has addressed more complex anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety and post-traumatic stress, and even the anxiety associated with paranoid schizophrenia.

“The key ingredient to an effective treatment for anxiety disorders is … you need to face your fears,” says Stéphane Bouchard, a clinical cyberpsychologist at the University of Quebec in Outaouais, Canada.

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When it comes to confronting fears, it can be easier in a virtual setting, for example, a flight-phobic patient can take off and land many times in a single VR session.

Price and complexity of VR equipment, which could run tens of thousands of dollars, limits VR therapy to a few research labs and clinics only.

Now, there are computer-based headsets like the Oculus Rift that cost only a few hundred dollars, as well headsets such as the Samsung Gear VR that turn smartphones into virtual reality displays for about 100 bucks.

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