The Advocate Magazine 2023 Number 46, Issue 2 | Page 14

Defining VR , AR , and MR Therapies , and How They Are Used for Therapy

CUTTING-EDGE SESSION Transformation Through Immersion : Using Virtual Reality to Enhance Your Therapy

In 2018 , I purchased my first virtual reality ( VR ) headset . I thought it would be fun if my brothers and nieces and nephews got headsets so that we could all play games together even though we lived in different states . What could be better than teaming up with family members to defend yourselves against zombie hordes while immersed in a virtual world ?
I quickly fell in love with the technology . I was moved by the vibrant colors , the landscapes , and the 3D sound that VR offers . I found some apps relaxing and others exhilarating — even scary . It didn ’ t take long for me to think about how I could use this technology in my therapy practice to accomplish things that would otherwise be difficult or even impossible to do in a therapy room .
Then came the day that a therapist in my practice who specializes in exposure and response therapy for obsessivecompulsive disorder ( OCD ) and anxiety disorders told me that he had a client who was agoraphobic because everywhere she went , she was exposed to stimuli that reminded her of her ex-boyfriend .
He created a hierarchy of exposure exercises involving those stimuli and systematically exposed his client until she habituated to them . One of the activities on her hierarchy involved using an app that integrates Google Street View into a virtual reality environment to walk around in front of her former boyfriend ’ s house until her anxiety level started to decrease .
I thought his idea was brilliant , innovative , safer , more practical , and more confidential than having his client actually walk around outside her ex-boyfriend ’ s home . From that point forward , I dedicated part of my practice to researching , training , experimenting , and using VR technology for therapeutic purposes .

Defining VR , AR , and MR Therapies , and How They Are Used for Therapy

Aaron Norton , PhD , LMHC , LMFT , MCAP , CCMHC , CRC , CFMHE , delivered one of AMHCA ’ s breakouts on cutting-edge topics at its June 2023 conference
Dr . Norton is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who serves as an assistant professor of instruction at the University of South Florida ’ s Department of Mental Health Law and Policy , executive director of the National Board of Forensic Evaluators , and Southern Region director for AMHCA . He has 20 years of clinical experience providing psychotherapy , supervision , and clinical and forensic evaluation ( www . anorton . com ).
Amelia Virtual Care , a company dedicated to VR therapy , defines VR — and its close cousin augmented reality ( AR )— as “ sets of three-dimensional environments with which a person interacts in real time , generating a sense of immersion similar to real life .”
VR replaces your field of vision with a fictional environment , and AR adds to your field of vision by imposing fictional objects into your otherwise “ real ” field of vision . If you see someone wearing a headset that completely covers their eyes , then they ’ re probably using VR . If , however , you see someone wearing glasses with space around the edges or using an app that imposes fictional objects into “ real world ” through the screen and the phone ’ s camera , they ’ re using AR .
Mixed reality ( MR ), according to Meta , involves wearing a headset that covers your field of vision but also uses cameras on the outside of the headset to integrate “ real ” footage into your fictional environment . The shorthand term for all three — VR , AR , and MR — is extended reality ( XR ).
I know , it sounds confusing , doesn ’ t it ? But if you Google these terms and watch a few videos , it will only take a few minutes to gain a good understanding of these different technologies . continued on page 15
14 The Advocate Magazine 2023 2022 ,, Issue # 21 American Mental Health Counselors Association ( ( AMHCA ) ) www . amhca . org