Virtual Reality Latest Tool for Doctors

Do you want to be a success at work? Do you want to have better personal relationships? Do you want to worry less? Do you want to have a nicer day? Do you want to be a better lover?

If yes, perhaps you should make room beside your personal growth guides for a virtual reality self-improvement psycho-treatment Kit. It doesn't exist yet, but it may soon become as common as all those how-to books from authors who claim to know the secrets of success.

Daniel Freeman, a Wellcome Fellow at Kings College London, told ABC News that virtual reality therapy can help all of us: "I think it's definitely in the future as the costs come down and the environments are developed. It has a great potential for helping us to improve our social interactions and conqueror our fears in the workplace, home or wherever."

Freeman is one of the scientists who is testing virtual reality technology for treating various kinds of mental and emotional disorders, from post-traumatic stress disorder in U.S. military personnel returning to a fear of flying.

A reminder: you may have already experienced virtual reality technology in an amusement arcade. You put on a helmet or large goggles wired to a computer. You see only what the computer feeds into the screen in your head gear. As you move your head and walk, the computer image simulates your movements and you sense, with sights and sounds, that you are actually in a different world.

Scientists are taking that idea and making it therapeutic.

The basic technique is to allow subjects to experience the things that trigger their fear but in the safe environment of virtual reality.

For instance, a veteran from Iraq who suffers from PTSD might fear a crowd of strangers. But by repeating that virtual experience over and over without injury or traumatic experience, the subject gradually comes to accept that his or her fear is either unproved or unfounded, and is thus better able to cope in the real world.

But this is not just for those who suffer from acute fears.

Freeman's research adds a new dimension by looking at ways of helping the rest of us, ordinary people with no PTSD or exceptional circumstances, cope with everyday paranoia, i.e., normal life.

Freeman told ABC News: "The traditional view is that paranoia only occurs to those with severe mental illnesses. However this [our study] shows that there is a spectrum of paranoia."

He added that many of us experience low grade paranoia because of the times in which we live.

"I think that paranoia almost is a 21st century fear. We're perhaps living in a time of increased suspiciousness, mistrust and paranoia," said Freeman.

And what better place to test everyday paranoia than the temporary prison of a crowded London underground subway tube train.

Freeman teamed with the Department of Computer Science at University College London to build a VR program that simulates a five-minute underground tube ride between two stations.

Nothing exciting happens in those five minutes. "Virtual" passengers are seen and heard, but they do nothing unusual. If you look at them, after a few seconds they might look back at you. Or they might laugh.

Freeman said: "The key things are that the characters are neutral, so it is all about what the person [the patient] reads into the expressions. If [virtual] someone looks at them, then that can be interpreted as a sign that they are staring at them to try to irritate them."

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