Pee Dee healthcare center uses virtual reality therapy to treat patients

Pee Dee health professionals train in virtual reality

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - Behavioral health professionals at HopeHealth are now using virtual reality therapy to treat behavioral and mental disorders like phobias, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Psychologists completed training on the new technology in April.

Dr. Farrah Hughes, Director of Behavioral Health, said the system created by the company Virtually Better, exposes patients to their fears or triggers by putting them in real world scenarios.

“Partly, it’s just retraining your brain to learn that these things might feel scary, but they’re not dangerous, they’re just false alarms,” Hughes said. “They’re experiencing the sights, the sounds, even the smells and vibration.”

There are modules for various phobias like fear of planes and storms, as well as scenarios of being around drugs and alcohol for those with substance abuse.

Hughes said the system allows them to control the environments, gradually progressing the scenarios as the patient becomes less afraid.

“We would come up with a plan for exposing them to light rain and then some thunder, but the module goes all the way to even tornadoes,” she said.

The therapy is also helpful for veterans struggling with PTSD from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The system can simulate various triggers like explosions and gun fire.

“We have some wonderful scenes that they can work through of the experience they had there,” Hughes said.

The therapy is also effective for coping with anxiety, depression and improving a patient’s overall emotional well-being.

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