British researchers have found a solution to overcome anorexia sufferers’ fear of eating, using a virtual reality game.
Psychologists are experimenting with virtual reality at Maudsley Hospital in southeast London, experimenting with virtual reality in an interesting type of therapy to introduce patients to foods that scare them.
The therapy involves players wearing a headset that transports them into a computerized 3D world, and images are streamed onto a screen inside the headset, making it appear as if the player is in another world.
The treatment is currently being tested, but the researchers behind it plan to release a version of the game to become a standard treatment for patients in Britain within the next three to five years.
Similar studies have shown that when combined with psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy, games can reduce body distortion (in which patients overestimate their body size) by 40 percent, and other studies have found that just six sessions may be more effective in the long term Reduce cognitive behavioral therapy binge eating.
The trial involves patients already receiving traditional treatments, including sessions with a dietician, psychotherapy and input from a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication, then play a four-minute game under the supervision of a mental health professional. It has a fridge and a table with food like pizza and ice cream.
Patients walk through the kitchen and can choose foods to pick up and eat. The treatment is believed to work like exposure therapy, which is commonly used to overcome phobias and OCD, in which patients are gradually introduced to a feared experience or something, such as spiders or dogs, which reduces the anxiety over time.
“The brains of people with eating disorders develop pathways that cause food to be associated with negative emotions, and when patients are exposed to food over and over again in a virtual world, it won’t work,” says Dr. Valentina Cardi, a clinical psychologist specializing in eating disorders at King’s College London and co-author of the trial. Her fears, like being overweight, are worth it. Once they learn this, the fear should subside. Over time, we hope that eating will become much easier for these patients.”
Ultimately, the virtual kitchens will be designed to resemble those in patients’ homes, with other settings such as restaurants and friends’ houses to be provided, according to the British Daily Mail.