Can Virtual Reality Be Used To Treat Eating Disorders?

b2ap3_thumbnail_virtual-reality.jpgResearch conducted in Spain has highlighted the possibility of virtual reality computer programs as a means to help educate individuals suffering from eating disorders.

The study was based around several different scenarios created electronically. The subject of body image disturbance is a significant indicator of possible eating disorders, with individuals suffering from, for instance, bulimia or binge eating viewing their bodies as smaller or larger than reality, respectively. The idea of employing technology in the form of computer programs was first analyzed in 2003, with the recent Canada based follow-up shedding new light on the possibilities of this type of support.

In one of the scenarios created for the purpose of the study, participants were tasked with adjusting the proportions of a computerized body until they felt it matched their own physical bodies. This allowed for clear and immediate indication of an individual being out of touch with their true physical size.

 Another scenario portrayed a door, with a body shown as prepared to enter sideways. In this computerized scenario, the participant was asked to remove strips within the doorway until they felt their body could fit through the door sideways.

 The results of the study have been both interesting and promising. It was found that the addition of these virtual reality scenarios indeed aided in reduction of eating disorder symptoms. This was compared to just cognitive therapy and was found to be more effective.

 However, the question can be raised that it was the simple increase in therapy sessions involved in the study that may have had an influencing factor on the results. While the computerized scenarios seemed to display promising results amongst the participants involved in the study, the question remains as to what is more responsible; the increased therapy time, or the virtual reality programs?

 Virtual reality is an area of computer technology that is only recently seeing development towards a realistic and commercially viable level. While cutting edge research has pushed the boundaries of VR for years, it remains to be seen how long we will have to wait until effective virtual reality setups can be employed for medical uses at a cost realistic to the budgets of both public and private practices. The results of this study are, however, an encouraging indicator that virtual reality may be a very promising tool indeed for future diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of medical issues. 

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