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Immersive 360-degree videos represent a recent development in virtual reality mental health, whereby users can utilize digitally simulated realities similar to the real world (Slater & Sanchez, 2016). These viable technologies hold much promise but, to date, have not been widely adopted in mental health settings. The article below summarizes the findings of lead researcher Ionescu and colleagues in their 2021 systematic review of immersive 360-degree videos using virtual reality headsets to provide the experience of “being there” for participants. Many of these participants concurrently underwent systematic desensitization and other common behavioral interventions.
Published in the Journal of Technology in Behavioral Science, the article reported findings of a systematic review to examine virtual reality mental health (VR mental health) interventions using immersive 360-degree videos. The focus of the VR mental health study was to gain insight into the practical implementation of virtual reality mental health.
History of Virtual Reality Mental Health Using Immersive 360-degree Videos
The review of literature offered by the article summarizes numerous studies that show immersive 360-degree videos to be beneficial to mental healthcare. Such videos can present users with photorealistic scenes of real-life settings from which to practice helpful behavioral health response sets to challenging stimuli. They can be used in-office or with a few adaptations, telehealth interventions.
They have successfully provided new and engaging methods of treating common behavioral symptoms as a distraction or form of entertainment and provided skills training. Immersive 360-degree videos are lower in cost and require fewer technical skills to construct and operate than traditional forms of virtual reality interventions.
VR Mental Health Population Sampled
The researchers selected 14 published studies involving mental health populations with clinical levels of psychopathology. Almost 60% of participants were adults, 25% were elderly, and 15% were children. Participant characteristics represented a range of disorders, with 373 participants across all the studies. The review was comprised of these percentages of participants and their reported symptoms:
- 70% anxiety disorder
- 17% depression
- 5% psychotic disorder
- 8% bipolar disorder
- one participant reported symptoms of a somatic disorder.
Most children were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (60%), while the remaining 40% were pediatric patients preparing to undergo an MRI.
Immersive 360-degree Video Interventions
The studies examined the acceptability and efficacy of immersive 360-degree videos as a practical virtual reality mental health treatment method, combining relaxation with common triggers. As is typical with many VR interventions, systematic desensitization was used in some of the studies reviewed to encourage a focus on relaxation skills while progressively viewing emotional triggers. Mental health professionals created most of the 360-degree videos.
Using a VR headset, examples of video intervention scenarios included:
- A form of exposure therapy for adults adapted to each participant’s unique anxiety disorder. For example, individuals who feared public speaking were encouraged to address an audience in a 360-degree video recording.
- Videos where participants with depression witnessed a recorded testimonial delivered by a real person struggling with depression.
- Child participants with autism spectrum disorder were exposed to sensory and social triggers.
Results of the review study indicated that immersive 360-degree videos are a viable VR mental health tool to increase a feeling of presence among users. They provide positive outcomes in interventions when remaining present is an essential aspect of treatment. The researchers also mentioned that technical skills are not needed for this type of virtual reality mental health, making it relatively easy for mental health researchers or clinicians to create a variety of client-specific interventions with immersive 360-degree videos. This possibility of tailoring treatment to the unique needs of individual clients poses a beneficial facet of this new behavioral intervention as it formally evolves.
While immersive 360-degree videos are a VR mental health resource in the early stages of use as an intervention tool for clinicians, they are a promising digital resource. Ionesco and colleagues discussed that the next step in developing this virtual reality mental health tool is the development of standardized procedures to facilitate added research for evidence-based interventions to be used in clinical care.
VR is a promising area for many behavioral practitioners. Assuming that corollary core competencies are taught to clinicians, planning for tomorrow’s digital practice modalities can begin by formally tracking this exciting digital research today.
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