Ten years ago, if you mentioned you’d been depressed or in therapy, you’d be met with a stunned, embarrassed, horrified silence. These days MPs and celebs are happily confessing their depression, anxiety and mental health issues to the public left, right and centre.
At the same time David Cameron has pledged to improve the mental health support services available on the NHS. At long last mental illness is coming out of the closet, and we can finally start to talk openly about it. It’s about time, when one in four youngsters in Britain have ‘suicidal thoughts’ and almost all of us will suffer mental issues at one point or another through our lives.
At the moment you might be lucky enough to get therapy sessions on the NHS, but there’s often a long waiting list and you only get a limited number of sessions. You can go private, of course, but £70 an hour isn’t unusual, and at those rates the expense soon stacks up. If you’re less lucky your GP might hand over anti-depressants, which are all very well but don’t take the cause of your feelings into account. All they do is mask the symptoms.
Talking therapies like neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) can be extremely effective, and modern day therapies don’t necessarily involve delving deep into your psyche to reveal the past, like old fashioned psychoanalysis. You can simply choose to deal better with the effects of your past experiences instead.
Right now it’s tough getting NHS support and private therapy is expensive. Luckily virtual therapy is developing fast, and promises to help millions of us who would never otherwise get help from the state.
Can virtual therapy combat depression?
Can Virtual Therapy help with anxiety and depression? Yes, it can, and there’s a growing body of evidence. Take the new therapy that transports patients into a virtual world and helps combat depression.
It works like this. You wear a VR headset that projects a life sized avatar in front of you. You ’embody’ the avatar, something most of us do naturally and quickly, and it responds to your movements. When you’re shown a second avatar of a crying child, you’re asked to comfort the child. Talking to the virtual child makes it gradually stop crying, and it responds positively to your compassion. Next, after a few minutes, you are embodied in the virtual child and experience the adult ‘you’ delivering comfort.
This basic eight minute scenario was repeated weekly for 3 weeks, and the people who tested the tech were interviewed four weeks later. The results were amazing. It turns out those involved had learned to be more compassionate towards themselves, and their depression lifted. How come? The scientists say it’s because people with anxiety and depression are their own worst critics. By comforting the child avatar, then hearing their own words of comfort back, the patients became better at treating themselves with compassion… which in turn made them feel less depressed. As one of the research team said: “A month after the study, several patients described how their experience had changed their response to real-life situations in which they would previously have been self-critical.”
More research is needed, but it’s a fascinating insight into how virtual therapies will soon be changing lives in ways we’d never imagined.