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Mental Health in the Metaverse: Therapists Can Treat Patients Using VR

5 mins
Updated by Nicole Buckler
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In Brief

  • Virtual reality can trick your brain into thinking you are in an actual environment that you are not
  • This is actually of benefit to remote therapy sessions
  • Therapists can treat patients via VR in the metaverse, and this is expected to have positive outcomes
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Mental health: Nina Salomons explains how she has started a company that plans to enable people to see a therapist using virtual reality. This leads to the exciting idea of counseling in the metaverse.

As the world slowly comes out of the pandemic, it’s clear that we’ve gone through some sort of ‘collective trauma’. Covid-19 made us afraid of being around people. So we turned to online solutions like zoom, WhatsApp or other messaging apps.

For those struggling with loneliness, isolation, health issues, or mental health problems these apps may have helped a little. However, when it comes to remote sessions with mental health professionals it may have made things worse. UK charity Mind confirms this, saying, “Of those young people who were given phone or online mental health support during the pandemic almost a third (32%) said remote treatment made their mental health worse.”

Mental health solutions

Is there a solution? The answer may lie in video games, the metaverse and virtual reality (VR). Some video games are already immersive 3D environments. Add a VR headset to the equation and you now have a presence. This tricks your brain into thinking you’re in another physical environment when really you’re just at home in your living room.

This immersion and presence is the same thing that would force you to physically crawl underneath a virtual table that isn’t really there, when maybe traditionally you’ll be using a controller or mouse and keyboard. It’s much more interactive, and you really feel like you’re hiding from that scary zombie hiding around the corner. You’ve probably seen tons of viral videos of people trying a VR headset for the first time; punching a wall, falling off a chair, accidentally jumping onto a TV. My brother once dropped my VR controllers in mid-air because last time he checked there was a virtual table there. This immersion and presence is what makes VR so powerful for healthcare. 

Mental health and VR

Brennan Spiegel, Director of Health Services Research says, “Virtual reality can help access internal reality. VR is far more than a new treatment. It’s a new treatment paradigm.”

One of the reasons why VR may be so powerful is because clients are more focused, they’re not distracted, they are experiencing the world from a first-person perspective (you play yourself). And they are more engaged than traditional media like watching a video.

Over five thousand studies reveal that VR has an uncanny ability to diminish pain, steady nerves, and boost mental health. It’s so impactful it can lower psychological symptoms and reduce stress hormones for twelve months after treatment. All without drugs and their unwanted side effects.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) mental health problems (particularly depression) will be the leading cause of mortality and morbidity globally by 2030. The pandemic has already made our mental health worse, especially for younger people. New solutions are needed now.

VR capabilities

With all this in mind, I co-founded a VR start-up called AnomieXR. We want to use VR’s capabilities to help tackle the global mental health crisis. By using VR, we are tackling stigmas associated with seeking mental health support, making therapy less awkward and slightly cooler. We are creating a tool that offers remote therapy from a VR headset. All those hours you spent gaming online during the pandemic? We believe it taught you how to express yourself in a safe virtual space with others.

All those awkward phone calls via your phone or computer? VR can solve this with the power of immersion. Want a remote therapy session with a certified therapist from the comfort of your own home? All you need is a VR headset and wifi. Therapists are also burnt out from the pandemic. Anomie can be a new tool to make it easier for therapist’s clients to open up and engage with them. 

mental health in the metaverse

NFTs to the rescue

My fellow co-founder Liam McKill and I have been working in the immersive space for years. It’s not a surprise that with the rise of various metaverses, NFTs would become popular. As a 3D artist, Liam started to turn his 3D digital artworks into non-fungible tokens (NFTs). What makes this 3D digital NFT artwork different from his usual 3D digital artwork? Well to put it simply, linking his 3D art to the blockchain makes the transactions traceable. In order to do this, Liam had to ‘mint’ his 3D artwork.

This ‘minting’ refers to the process of turning a digital file into a crypto collectible or digital asset on the Ethereum blockchain. The digital item or file is stored in a decentralized database or distributed ledger forever, and it is impossible to edit, modify, or delete. Completely transparent, traceable, and purchasable. 

Liam and I have realized that through Anomie, clients would be learning how to express themselves through 3D and immersive tools. This enables them to share stories with their therapist or coach. It just seems logical to do a VR NFT auction for fundraising when AnomieXR is creating digital artists by helping users express themselves through VR means.

Raising capital

AnomieXR is now collaborating with six VR artists to raise capital. Charities and indie game developers have been using NFTs to raise capital for their projects and games, just like any other crowdfunding platform. Why not VR?

Each VR artist created a special piece that focused on the theme “from negative to positive mindsets.” This is in line with what AnomieXR is focusing on. The auction will be held live inside Microsoft’s metaverse AltspaceVR on the 11th March 2022 20:00 GMT.

The first auction is in collaboration with Durk van der Meer, Rosie Summers, Natasha Murray, Kayleigh Eliza, R00T and Brenda Chen. Each artist believes in the mission of AnomieXR, of bringing mental healthcare into the future. More than half of the funds raised will go towards the VR artists, whilst the rest will go towards the development of AnomieXR’s software tool. 

Mental health: The future

In the future, AnomieXR plans to have pop-up stores in several metaverses for users who already own a VR headset. My co-founder Liam hopes for a successful auction both to support the artists involved and to bring our VR therapy platform to life so that it can help create positive narratives for anyone seeking mental health support.

Collectors interested in bidding on the artist’s VR art pieces can do so on NFT platform Rarible. Each piece will go live during the opening event and can be purchased with Ethereum. Supporters of AnomieXR who do not want to purchase an NFTs can still support them by purchasing an Anomie token or donating on Patreon.

Got something to say about mental health in the metaverse or anything else? Write to us or join the discussion in our Telegram channel.

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Nina Salomons
Nina Salomons is the CEO and Co-founder of AnomieXR. She co-founded the Women in VR London meetup in 2016, is part of TLA VR and AR Group and used to be a journalist and video content producer at VRFocus. She is a fierce advocate for accessibility and inclusion in the immersive space leading to major UK initiatives since 2018. She is also an experienced immersive consultant and has been focusing on bringing VR into prisons for the last five years.
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