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posted: 8/5/2016 1:00 AM

Naperville institute uses virtual reality to treat real disorders

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  • The Fox Valley Institute for Growth and Wellness in Naperville will be using virtual reality technology from Spanish company Psious for the treatment of anxiety disorders, as well as for relaxation and mindfulness techniques.

    The Fox Valley Institute for Growth and Wellness in Naperville will be using virtual reality technology from Spanish company Psious for the treatment of anxiety disorders, as well as for relaxation and mindfulness techniques.
    Photos courtesy Psious

  • Using Samsung Gear VR goggles, the patient is put into a virtual world, like riding on a commercial jet, in order to treat anxiety disorders like a fear of flying.

    Using Samsung Gear VR goggles, the patient is put into a virtual world, like riding on a commercial jet, in order to treat anxiety disorders like a fear of flying.

  • Scott Lowe

    Scott Lowe

  • Dr. Laura Bokar

    Dr. Laura Bokar

 
 

In just the past couple of years, we've seen virtual reality technology slip out of the fantasy world of gaming and into the real world. The Chicago Auto Show, for example, offered virtual test drives in vehicles parked on the show floor. The real estate industry is on the cusp of doing virtual home walk-throughs from the comfort of the agent's office.

And technology is finding its way into health care, and a Naperville clinic will be among the first in the area to use the virtual world as part of its treatments.

The Fox Valley Institute for Growth and Wellness, a psychiatry and counseling services agency, has signed on with Spanish company Psious to use its Psious Toolsuite VR technology for the treatment of anxiety disorders, and for relaxation and mindfulness techniques. The suite utilizes Samsung Gear virtual reality goggles, which are worn by the patient. A therapist is able to control and monitor the virtual world in the googles from a laptop, and can monitor the patient's behavior and reactions to the world.

Dr. Laura Bokar, president and CEO of The Fox Valley Institute, calls the technology "cognitive therapy on steroids."

"In cognitive, you're bringing the picture to mind," she said. "But if it's something that's right there and bringing that emotion, it'll be able to create change much sooner."

With the VR therapy, she notes, patients with anxiety disorders such as a fear of heights or flying can experience things like standing on a ledge or sitting in a commercial flight, all while sitting in the office with a therapist. Being able to be immersed in the experience through virtual reality -- as opposed to imagining the experience or, in extreme cases, putting the patient into an actual experience -- can lead to a faster treatment of the disorder.

Bokar experienced the program first hand in July during a demonstration at Matter Chicago, an accelerator for startups in the health industry. The experience was so real, she said, she became slightly nauseous at one point.

"It does affect your thoughts and emotions as if it's really occurring," she said.

Scott Lowe, general director of North America for Psious, notes virtual reality in behavioral sciences is not really new. It has been used for decades in medical, educational and military applications. However, the tipping point came only recently with the development of cheaper, more portable VR hardware such as the Samsung Gear and Occulus VR goggles.

"Up until 3 years ago, it was impossible to do this without a big machine that cost thousands of dollars and was complicated and hard to figure out how to use," he said. "We make this technology manageable to use, in a very formatted factor, with little complication using in real world."

Psious is just starting to get a foothold in the U.S., Lowe said, with about 100 agencies using the Toolsuite. In its home base of Spain, Lowe said technology is being used by about 350 agencies, and is growing in the U.K. and Europe.

"The thing we're able to capitalize on is that we're really cutting edge," he said.

And that's one of the main reasons Bokar said she was attracted to Psious.

"We're always looking for innovative services and therapies to really be able to work with our clients better and what will help them more," she said.

Bokar said there is no set time to introduce the technology, as installation and training still need to take place, but she plans on offering the therapy once everything is set up and staff is fully trained.

"This is very new to us," she said. "We have (treatments) that people go 'huh? I haven't heard of it.' But once you experience it, there's a change that occurs. and I want to be an influencer of change."