Monday, April 2, 2018
By Hallie Schwartz
We are living in the golden age of technology, and mental health professionals are finding new and innovative ways to help their clients. Susan Morlock, a staff therapist at The Awakening Center, is one of those innovators.
Virtual reality therapy offers an entirely new experience to clients. Susan explained that exposure therapy is often used with clients who experience anxiety. Her virtual reality technology brings exposure therapy directly into the office. Susan stated that virtual reality therapy immerses people in their fears in a safe environment. Fear of flying, for example, could be treated using exposure therapy. Clients would be incrementally exposed to entering the airport, checking into a flight, going through airport security, boarding a plane, preparing for take-off, and so on. Likely, this would involve clients driving to and from the airport on multiple occasions. Using virtual reality therapy allows clients to receive a very similar experience without all the travel back and forth.
I asked Susan about her biggest success story with virtual reality therapy. She was proud to tell me that the technology, along with some additional education, helped one of her clients fly after not going near an airplane for 16 years!
Susan purchased her virtual reality equipment from a company called PSIOUS, which is based out of Spain. The virtual reality platform, called PsiousToolsuite, provides animated and live environments that can be used in clinical practice. Susan showed me some of the technology’s additional capabilities: typing messages to participants that can act as replacement thoughts, changing parts of the scene to make them more stressful, and the biofeedback monitor that can track physiological responses. PsiousToolsuite provides environments for more than just the treatment of anxiety and anxiety-related disorders. The technology can be used for mindfulness and relaxation techniques too. In fact, Susan relayed that she mostly uses the equipment when teaching mindfulness and relaxation to her clients.
I was excited to play the role of Susan’s client as she showed me how virtual reality therapy works. I wore a pair of googles that had a cell phone attached as a means to provide the screen. Susan used her laptop to control the images on the cell phone screen. She presented me with a very calming scene of a green pasture with a tree in the forefront. As we worked through this mindfulness module, I watched the tree’s leaves slowly fall to the ground. I truly felt present in the moment and calmer afterward.
Susan said that PsiousToolsuite is updating its modules all the time and offering more to mental health professionals. Virtual reality therapy does not require a certification and can be purchased online at www.psious.com.
As an intern therapist, I am inspired by Susan’s efforts to explore more new age therapeutic interventions and plan to do the same in my clinical practice. After all, it’s called the golden age of technology for a reason.
Hallie is a graduate intern at The Awakening Center and currently finishing her master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Roosevelt University. Hallie is passionate about working with clients who are in recovery. She has worked with clients in recovery from domestic violence, substance dependency, and eating disorders.