Category: Press releases

The Power of VR for acute and chronic pain

 

The Pain Practitioner interviewed Dr. Brenda K Wiederhold, CEO of Interactive Media Institute, a 501c3

and President of the Virtual Reality Medical Center, a California Medical Corporation.

VRMC develops VR environments, conducts clinical research studies using VR, AR, medical devices,

biosensors and pharmaceuticals in conjunction with traditional behavioral healthcare and provides patient

services at its private clinic on the Scripps Memorial Hospital Campus in La Jolla, California.

 

Pain Practitioner Interview

What You Can do to Reduce Your Anxiety About COVID-19

 

What You Can do to Reduce Your Anxiety About COVID-19

 

Since everyone reacts differently to situations like COVID-19, it is important to be prepared to handle any type of anxiety or fear you may be feeling at this time. When things in your life become so uncertain and you don’t know what is going to happen, you may begin to panic or have severe anxiety. And one of the worst things about this crisis is that most of the world is on lockdown so we cannot just go to a friend’s house, to the gym, or whatever else you typically do to deal with your stress.

However, that does not mean that you cannot do something to deal with your emotions. First of all, you don’t have to go to the gym to work out. Even if you don’t have any kind of exercise equipment at home. One of the best ways to exercise is to walk. Yes, you can go outside for a walk. Just stay at least six feet away from anyone you happen to see. Another way to get some exercise and enjoy the outdoors is gardening or yard work. Since the weather is getting warmer, go ahead and start getting your garden ready or just walk around the yard and pick up sticks, rocks, and other debris that may have made its way into your yard during the winter.

Don’t forget to talk to people. Just because you are quarantined does not mean you cannot communicate with your loved ones. Use Facetime, videochat, text, or just talk on the phone to friends, family, or anyone. Not only will you feel better, you will make the other person happy as well. Loneliness is real. Do not isolate yourself so much that you are not talking to anyone at all. Another way to help your anxiety is to use virtual reality therapy. Whether that means connecting with a therapist on telementalhealth or coming into a clinic, like the Virtual Reality Medical Center in La Jolla, Dr. Brenda Wiederhold is available to treat any type of anxiety management.

 

Talking to Your Kids About COVID-19

 

Your kids may not seem like they are anxious about this COVID-19 crisis, but they probably have a lot of questions about what is going on. For example, they are probably wondering why they have to stay home from school. Although many kids like this vacation from their daily routine, most are probably getting anxious about what is going on. The younger ones that are not in school yet may even be wondering why their siblings are home and why they cannot go see their friends or go to the park.

Do not just tell them not to worry about it and try to shield them from the COVID-19 issues. Because we all know that you cannot stop someone from worrying by telling them not to worry. In fact, in many cases, it will make them worry more. Listen to your child’s questions and answer them as best as you can. If you do not know the answer to their question, go on trusted sites like the CDC and look for the answers and ways to help your children cope. Without overwhelming your child with too much information, go ahead and let them know what is going on because what is going on in their imagination may be much worse than the truth.

If your child is really having a hard time dealing with things, it is important to get them some professional help. Although most mental health providers are not taking appointments right now because of the quarantine, you can always find online counseling. Most online counseling can be done without ever having to go to the office and can all be done from home. In addition, talk to Dr. Brenda Wiederhold from the Virtual Reality Medical Center about her options to help during this COVID-19 lockdown.

 

Taking the Anxiety Out of COVID-19 for Those with Pre-Existing Anxiety

 

During these troubling times, it is difficult for anyone to deal with their anxiety and stress. Those with pre-existing anxiety disorders can really have a tough time with the COVID-19 crisis. But there are things you can do to help yourself or others who may not be handling the situation well.

First of all, turn off the news. Watching too much coverage about COVID-19 can make anyone anxious. While it is good to be informed, it is more important to take a break from the constant worry and think about other things for a while. Your mental health needs a break sometimes.

Talk to someone if you feel like you are becoming overwhelmed. Even if you already have a therapist, they may not be available to you right now. Many mental health providers are not taking appointments right now except for virtual visits or online counseling. If your therapist does not offer this kind of help, contact one that does.

There are many out there and you don’t even need an appointment for most of them. Then you can talk to them by text, phone, chat, or videochat.   Many health plans are also relaxing their payment schedules for virtual visits during this time of “shelter in place”.

Another example would be to use virtual reality therapy. This type of therapy involves using virtual reality to expose you to your fears gradually. It works extremely well with anxiety disorders and phobias. Dr. Brenda Wiederhold of the Virtual Reality Medical Center offers treatment for all types of anxiety, phobias, and pain management.  In addition, there are  relaxation apps that one can find on the app store such as Calm, Headspace and Kardia that may help get you through these difficult times.  Remember, now more than ever, we must be mindful of our mental well-being.

Fear of Flying

“Last September, my husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary and flew from California to Vermont. This was the first time I had flown in years.”

Like many people with aviophobia, Gaustad hadn’t always been afraid of flying. “We actually flew quite a bit. But on a flight to Las Vegas, our plane hit a few air pockets… enough turbulence to throw things around a bit… and although everything turned out okay, I got real real panicky and said, ‘I’m not going to be able to do this again.'” Sure enough, Gaustad and her family traveled by car, bus or train throughout the next decade.

Knowing the anniversary trip was coming up, Gaustad decided to do something about her phobia and learned that virtual reality therapy was available through her company’s employee benefits. “I only met with Brenda seven or eight times before the therapy worked on me,” she recalls. “In fact, before the sessions were completely over, I had already booked our flights to Vermont.”

“Yes I did feel sort of weird when I wasn’t flying, like there was someting wrong with me,” Gaustad admits. “It was important that my husband understood my problem. Be patient and work through this together.”

Virtual Reality for the Attenuation of Pain and Anxiety

The Virtual Reality Medical Center and nonprofit affiliate, Interactive Media Institute, recently published the article, “Using Virtual Reality to Mobilize Health Care: Mobile Virtual Reality Technology for Attenuation of Anxiety and Pain” in the January Issue of IEEE Consumer Electronics Magazine. The article summarizes the use of virtual reality as a tool for pain distraction and stress reduction in patients. This tool has been used to treat phobias, stress disorders, distract from surgical pain, and help overcome chronic pain. As a mobile healthcare platform, virtual reality and related technologies are changing the face of healthcare services by increasing access, efficiency, and effectiveness.

For the full text, please visit: http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/8197481/

Please direct any questions regarding this article to Dr. Brenda K. Wiederhold at frontoffice@vrphobia.com

 

 

Wiederhold BK, Miller IT, Wiederhold MD. Using Virtual Reality to Mobilize Health Care: Mobile Virtual Reality Technology for Attenuation of Anxiety and Pain. IEEE Consumer Electronics Magazine. 2018 Jan;7(1):106-9.

Fear of Flying

“It started when the plane took off.”

Keely Moore isn’t afraid of a plane crash. It’s the airplane cabin closing in on her.

“I just felt kind of trapped.”

Keely suffers from panic attacks—intense unexpected episodes of fear. The attacks trigger severe physical reactions including, racing heart, chest pains, and dizziness. The attack strike terror in Keely’s mind.

“You know the fear of dying, not knowing what’s going on”

The real world situation is too overwhelming for a lot of people.

So in virtual reality, we can put them in near real-world situations, have them experience that fear, teach them coping mechanisms, also teach them that those feelings aren’t dangerous.

Keely’s nine flights virtual flights have paid off. “It just feels more like excitement than anxiety.”

 

For more information on Keely’s story click here.

Fear of Birds

I had a normal childhood. One of my favorite places in our hometown was our bird farm, where I thought it was very cool to go hang out with birds and touch them. I cannot imagine this anymore.

All of this was until I had a very bad experience one day. I was nine. We were in this park and someone dumped a bag of birdseed in front of me. All of a sudden there I was engulfed in a cloud of sparrows. I couldn’t see anything except brown-white feathers everywhere. And I couldn’t hear anything except for chirping, frantic wing flapping.

I started to feel like I couldn’t breathe. To me this felt like it went on for tens of minutes, even though talking to Brenda, I realized it must have actually been a couple of seconds.

I was really shaken. My parents were like, “Oh, poor baby, let’s go and take her out for some ice cream.” And we did. They sat me down and put some ice cream in front of me. And, a very bold pigeon landed in my plate and started flapping around. There were feathers everywhere and the sound that terrified me a couple of seconds ago was back.

I think that was what cemented the connection between birds and danger in my mind. I think I’ve had this phobia ever since.

How it affected Neha’s daily life

When we walk around Palo Alto, we have to take a special route to avoid houses with any chicken coops.

Neha’s Boyfriend

When we walk around in the city, and you see a bird on the sidewalk, you squeeze my hand really tightly and cry.

Neha’s Sister

That time you ran out of the kitchen, screaming and sweating and crying, and it was because there was a feather on the floor.

Neha’s Mom

The Next Steps

My mother sent out an email to all of her doctor friends saying, “My daughter runs into traffic to escape pigeons. Can anyone help us?” The answer we got was VR therapy.

I thought, “That sounds made up, and kinda like sci-fi.”

————————————————————————————————————

I can deal with a penguin maybe, a video of a penguin

Neha

Even as a part of the process, there was an option to stop. So I never felt like, “Oh my God, I can’t take it anymore.” It was always under control. It was never something that I felt like I had to get out of immediately.

My goal was to not have bird phobia interrupt my daily life. I wanted to walk within 10 feet of a bird.

If I’m being perfectly honest, I definitely still pay attention to birds. “Oh there’s a bird near me, I’m going to start my breathing exercises.” But, I can function like normal.

For more information on Neha’s story, click here.

Fear of Flying and Heights

I decided to take the VR class for both fear of flying and fear of heights.  It’s something I felt I needed to do.  The flying and heights have been a problem with me for almost 30 years and it was inflicting difficulties on myself in terms of traveling and my wanting to do things.  I found myself eliminating a lot of the fun things I used to do.  I just didn’t want to do them.  And I’d find excuse for not doing them and for reasons I couldn’t go here or I couldn’t go there and then feel bad later that I did not go.  so I just decided it was time to put my life on hold and work on this for a while.

We sat down and we talked about some of the things that were [plexing] me and what I needed to do as far as what I needed to do as far as the program and we started discussing what the problem was and what might have caused it.  And from there I learned to do diaphragmic breathing as a means to ease my fears and stress levels. Then we began to use VR introductory type of things where I was In a plane.

I learned the breathing techniques to go along with the actual flying of the VR I had gotten to a point where I was absolutely unable even want to get on a plane at all from small props to multi probs to jets to anything. 

I was preparing myself for a trip back east, and that was the thing, I just wanted to feel like I could go back to NY state and feel lets say reasonably comfortable, maybe not as comfortable as someone who’s not afraid of flying by with far less stress than what I had had in previous years.  And I relied on all the techniques that I had learned in VR class and the tapes that I played in my mind and and the visualizations that I did and it made the flight that would have probably had me right up on the wall into something that I was able to tolerate and get through and felt pretty good about having got there and then on the return even less stressful.

I felt that the program was far and above better than what I had expected I really did not know what to expect when I came in.  But for me it was a life saver, in that I was then able to go about and do other things not just from flying but other things that had a fear factor of heights and of that nature and so it was powerful.

I have one final goal in flying that I want to do and that is to work my way back up into a propeller aircraft which was the reason I got into this clinic in the first place, the fear of flying as a result of propeller aircraft problem.

Suggestions from Kevin:

You have to do more than just come into the clinic, the clinic will just direct you, but you have to make extra efforts cause if you just rely on the clinic, you’ll get something out of it but not exactly what you want, you will fall short.

I think that in time this is gonna pass, I got the best of it, I would suggest to anyone who has a fear of flying the first step is to recognize what it is, fear of flying, that’s the phobia, then set the time aside to get it taken care of, don’t want as long as I did get it taken care of, I think this is a good place to do it.

 

For more information on Kevin’s story, click here.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Due to Motor Vehicle Accidents

It is nearly impossible to get anywhere in California without driving, even in major cities. Stephanie Wall, a 23-year-old resident of Southern California, knows this only too well. Just two days before she was scheduled to begin college in Colorado, Wall was involved in a traffic accident that caused her to stop driving for what she thought would be forever. On a hot summer day, a teenager slammed into Wall’s sport utility vehicle on a freeway in Denver, rolling it over. Wall was rushed to intensive care. As she recovered in the hospital, she thought about her future with driving. “I didn’t want to freak out and get into another accident,” she said.

Two months after her accident, Wall returned home to California to begin the long process of physical therapy. While her body recovered and improved, her fear did not. “I would be in the car with [my] Mom and would get really anxious, sweating, and I would jump,” Wall says. “I would even shut my eyes sometimes when I saw a car coming at me in the same sort of way as [in] the accident.”

After two years of enduring this fear, Wall was referred by her psychologist to Dr. Brenda Wiederhold at the Virtual Reality Medical Center (VRMC) in San Diego, California. At VRMC, Wiederhold uses a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy and VR-enhanced cognitive-behavioral therapy (VR-CBT) to help patients with specific driving phobias, fear of driving related to panic disorder and agoraphobia, or PTSD due to motor vehicle accidents. Over the last decade, psychologists around the world, including Wiederhold, have been using VR therapy to treat a variety of phobias including fear of heights, public speaking, spiders, flying, medical procedures, and enclosed spaces. However, Wiederhold was one of the first to use VR to treat PTSD due to motor vehicle accidents.

At VRMC, Wall did not enter VR during her first two treatment sessions. Instead, Wiederhold taught her relaxation techniques (e.g. deep breathing, visual physiological feedback, etc.) and cognitive techniques that would help her cope with anxiety when she was confronted with her fear. In subsequent sessions, Wall was placed in the virtual driving environment that included a real automobile seat and seatbelt, steering wheel, gas and brake pedals, and a vibrating platform to simulate movement. The environment allowed Wiederhold to change what Wall was seeing with the press of a key. Situations included varying traffic and weather conditions, a bustling commercial center, a residential area, bridges, mountain roads, and a highway. Over time, Dr. Wiederhold adjusted the scenes, adding speeding cars, pedestrians, rainstorms, and lifelike sounds to make the exposure more realistic.”It was obviously a computerized environment,” said Wall, who now tackles Southern California’s freeways. “But still, it felt real. The drivers would even yell at me, sometimes in Spanish, and one time I started yelling back.” Wall’s final goal was to drive to school 20 miles away, on the freeway.

“When we started getting in traffic on the [virtual] freeway my heart would start racing like I was having a mild anxiety attack,” Wall recalled. “The noises bothered me, too. You could be at a stoplight and they’d have a fender bender next to you and that sound really got to me.”

With VR, “you can have an accident and not get hurt,” Dr. Wiederhold said. “People who are afraid fo the freeway say, ‘Oh my God, this is dangerous.’ I get them to stop the thought and think instead, ‘Yes, I’m sweating, but I’m still in control.'”

After 15 sessions with Wiederhold, Wall is back behind the wheel, for the most part comfortably. “I still use the breathing techniques to this day,” she says. “I find comfort in that. Knowing that I can encounter any situation, anywhere, and I’ll be able to handle it. That makes me a better driver.” Though her original goal was 20 miles on the freeway, Wall now drives 20, 30, or even 40 miles away, allowing her to get to school and physical therapy on her own. She now says that she prefers driving herself. “It has become ‘me’ time,” she says. Walls is still in physical therapy for her injuries from the accident, but she has gone back tot school and recently bought a condo. Her new goal is to drive back to Colorado and finish her trip to Denver. “Someday I’ll accomplish that,” she says, “and it will be with the tools that Dr. Wiederhold taught me.”

Sourced from Dr. Brenda K Wiederhold’s book, Virtual Healing.

For more information on Stephanie’s story, click here.

Fear of Public Speaking

We all know how upsetting it can be to be scared of someone or something.  In fact, one La Jolla man says his fear was affecting his job and life.  So, he decided to take control and fought his fear in a way that very few people have done.

“I would become very anxious, light headed, lots of perspiration,” said Ronald Davidson.  “I thought I was going to pass out I was some nervous.  People are going to think i’m crazy.  How am I going to explain this?”

Fears of flying, spiders and heights.  Most of us are afraid of something, but when our fear becomes overwhelming it can paralyze us and change the way we live our everyday lives.

“I’ve been in the middle of a speech and was almost so disabled by anxiety.  I was almost not able to carry on.”

Davidson’s fear of public speaking affected his ability to do his job, and his confidence in life. 

“I’ve had a couple of times where I thought I was going to pass out.  I was so nervous it’s not a good feeling.”

“Phobias are the number one mental illness, even more common than depression.  But they’re also the most treatable mental illness,” Doctor Brenda Wiederhold.

Psychologists today treat phobia by having their patients imagine what they’re afraid of then they jump straight into real life situations.  But  a medical center in Sorrento Valley has virtually opened a door to a new world of therapy. 

“What we’re able to do with the VR is to take more systematic baby steps.  Because you don’t want the person to feel some anxiety… you don’t want to overwhelm them.  That can actually make them avoid even more.”

The therapist controls the environment and monitors the patient’s heart rate, breathing and mind activity.

“They’re actually feeling the vibrations, they’re hearing the sounds they’re seeing the visuals so all of their senses are stimulated.” said Wiederhold.

“I’m fairly skeptical so if it works with me it’ll work with anybody,” said Davidson.

The future of VR is virtually limitless.  Right now they are treating people with eating disorders, ADHD and anger management.  And some therapists are even experimenting with treating schizophrenia.

“You put them in the Virtual world to make them understand that those voices are just in the virtual world and you get them to slowly change their reality,” said Wiederhold.

Virtual therapy is in its beginning stages, but it has helped at least one patient with his fear of public speaking and changed his life.

“It helps you in so many other ways when you gain self confidence.  You faced something that you found very fearful and you know I probably could have gotten through the rest of my life with out doing this… I could have skated around it, I have in the past.  But it feels so good for a change to confront it and to over come it.”

 

For more information on Ron’s story, click here.