Virtual Reality, Vertigo and Hypnotherapy

Virtual reality is now being used in the treatment of Virtigo.

Contrary to popular belief, Virtigo, is not a fear of heights (acrophobia) but is an unsettling feeling associated with balance which can be triggered by any number of environments. In Hitchcock’s Vertigo the trigger for this swirling dizzy feeling was the climbing of a high staircase which is how Vertigo and a fear of heights became inaccurately linked.

The virtual reality headset is used to gently trigger Virtigo in the sufferer so that that the patient learns how to modify and reduce the reaction. Gentle exposure therapy in a secure environment has been a popular method for many years in psychotherapy. The body and brain becomes trained to reduce its reaction to a certain trigger but in the safety of the consulting room.

Hypnotherapists use the natural virtual reality headset we have in all of us, the imagination. The patient is encouraged to relax, usually to a deeper level than they would normally experience and then a gentle exposure to the trigger is introduced through the internal landscape. Combining a relaxed state with a ‘journey’ through the imagination is a simple and effective way to create calm responses to an otherwise unsettling memory or trigger environment.

Does virtual reality as a therapy tool mean the end of hypnotherapy?

Well, technology certainly is a useful tool to encourage someone to deal with an unpleasant or unsettling environment. Using a headset to treat a symptom can feel more like a game than therapy which, for the patient, is a plus. It has the added bonus of being introduced as the new cure which is administered by the white coat professional, a classic set up for an effective placebo response.

There are many that see hypnotherapy as a step into the unknown where the ‘power of the mind’ is still an off-putting prospect.

This is partly due to continuing scepticism at over-blown claims made by practitioners, thought control, mind control, think yourself rich etc. But also due to the old fears laid down by Freud and often dramatized by Hitchcock, that the subconscious is a scary, dark place that can explode at any moment.

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Andrew Cunningham

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