Virtual Reality: The Most Psychologically Powerful Medium
Sustained behavior change is the toughest challenge in health. It’s a massive, global challenge within an industry that resists change. We need new solutions that actually work, and patients desperately need help to solve preventable health issues.
VR supercharges focus, learning and emotion to drive behavioral health and positive change.
The BehaVR Platform uses the immersive and emotive power of Virtual Reality to create experiences that educate, motivate and activate healthy behavior change. These techniques are integrated in VR to empower patients with new skills of stress resilience and emotional regulation.
How does VR work for healthcare?
Our brains use inputs from our senses to maintain a model, or simulation, of our current state – where we are, how we feel, what we’re doing, whether we’re comfortable, safe or in danger, etc. When we replace or “hijack” those sensory inputs using VR, we create a new reality for our brain in those moments – we create experiences. By designing experiences that elicit emotional and physiological responses, and teach concepts through engaged and embodied learning, we have incredible power to impart new insights and mental models.
BehaVR Studies in Progress
Pain and Rehabilitation
This case study describes the delivery of pain neuroscience education (PNE) in conjunction with breathing and mindfulness strategies using virtual reality (VR) for a patient suffering from chronic neck pain. The patient was an 18-year-old high school girl, following a motor vehicle collision 10 months ago. The patient has previously not responded to massage, exercise and therapeutic modalities (ultrasound and electrical stimulation). Baseline assessment revealed pain ratings of 5/10 for neck pain and 6/10 for upper back pain (Numeric Pain Rating Scale – NPRS); a pain catastrophization score of 31 (Pain Catastrophization Scale – PCS), indicating “high” levels of catastrophising and a neck disability score of 21 (Neck Disability Index – NDI) indicating moderate disability. She underwent three sessions of PNE using VR, in combination with breathing and/or mindfulness. Pre- to post-treatment measurements showed reductions in neck and upper back pain, pain catastrophization, and positive shifts in pressure pain thresholds of the lower back. Overall NDI scores improved 29%. This case study indicates that VR-delivered PNE provides comparable results to what might be expected with therapist- delivered PNE and this combined approach warrants further investigation as a means to make PNE more accessible.
- Louw, A., Louw, C., Flynn, T. (2019). Case report: Pain Neuroscience Education using Virtual Reality. Pain and Rehabilitation: Journal of Physiotherapy Association, (Issue No. 46). 4-7.
While modernization has dramatically increased lifespan, it has also witnessed that the nature of stress has changed dramatically. Chronic stress result failures of homeostasis thus lead to various diseases such as atherosclerosis, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and depression. However, while 75%–90% of human diseases is related to the activation of stress system, the common pathways between stress exposure and pathophysiological processes underlying disease is still debatable. Chronic inflammation is an essential component of chronic diseases. Additionally, accumulating evidence suggested that excessive inflammation plays critical roles in the pathophysiology of the stress-related diseases, yet the basis for this connection is not fully understood. Here we discuss the role of inflammation in stress-induced diseases and suggest a common pathway for stress-related diseases that is based on chronic mild inflammation. This framework highlights the fundamental impact of inflammation mechanisms and provides a new perspective on the prevention and treatment of stress- related diseases.
- Liu, Y.-Z., Wang, Y.-X., & Jiang, C.-L. (2017). Inflammation: The Common Pathway of Stress-Related Diseases. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 11, 316.
This was a pilot study of six women with fibromyalgia (FM). The intervention consisted of ten sessions of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) combined with VR to enhance relaxation and mindfulness skills. Improvement was seen with regards to functional status related to pain, depression, positive affect, and pain coping. While this was a pilot study in a small sample, the authors felt that VR was a key contribution to the observed results.
- Botella, C., Garcia-Palacios, A., Vizcaino, Y., Herrero, R., Banos, R. M., & Belmonte, M. A. (2013). Virtual reality in the treatment of fibromyalgia: A pilot study. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 16(3), 215-223. Doi: 10.1089/cyber.2012.1572.
Craving, defined as the subjective experience of an urge or desire to use substances, has been identified in clinical, laboratory, and preclinical studies as a significant predictor of substance use, substance use disorder, and relapse following treatment for a substance use disorder. Bowen and colleagues found that individuals who received MBRP reported significantly lower levels of craving following treatment, in comparison to a treatment-as-usual control group, which mediated subsequent substance use outcomes. Results indicated that a latent factor representing scores on measures of acceptance, awareness, and non-judgment significantly mediated the relation between receiving MBRP and self-reported levels of craving immediately following treatment.
- Witkiewitz, K., Bowen, S., Douglas, H., & Hsu, S. (2013). Mindfulness-based relapse prevention for substance craving. Addictive Behaviors, 38, 1563-1571, doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2012.04.001
This is a review of existing literature on use of VR for pain, pain neurobiology, and how VR impacts pain system to produce analgesia. Pain perception relies not only on neural networks, but on factors from molecular to psychological to social. VR offers the ability of addressing pain at all of these levels in non-pharmacologic ways. Immersive VR has been shown to be effective as a distraction technique for changing burn dressings, starting IV lines, dental procedures, and for decreasing phantom limb pain, to name a few examples.
- Gold, J. I., Belmont, K. A., & Thomas, D. A. (2007). The neurobiology of virtual reality pain attenuation. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 10(4), 536-544. Doi: 10.1089/cpb.2007.9993
After VR, participants reported significantly less sadness, anger, and anxi- ety, and reported being significantly more relaxed. Participants reported a moderate to strong illusion of going inside the 3D computer generated world (i.e., moderate to high “presence” in VR) and showed high acceptance of VR as a technique to practice mindfulness. These results show encouraging preliminary evidence of the feasibility and acceptability of using VR to practice mindfulness based on clinical expert feedback.
- Navarro-Haro MV, López-del-Hoyo Y, Campos D, Linehan MM, Hoffman HG, García-Palacios A, et al. (2017) Meditation experts try Virtual Reality Mindfulness: A pilot study evaluation of the feasibility and acceptability of Virtual Reality to facilitate mindfulness practice in people attending a Mindfulness conference. PLoS ONE 12(11): e0187777.