Doctors have a new weapon in their fight against anorexia and bulimia—virtual reality.
According to the Wall Street Journal, some therapists are turning to technology to help treat the notoriously tricky illnesses, which have a genetic element as well as connections to substance abuse, anxiety, depression, perfectionism, and obsessive-compulsive disorders, according to the Eating Recovery Center.
Because eating disorders have many root causes, doctors have been using more traditional cognitive behavioral therapy in conjunction with VR. After strapping on a VR headset, the doctors put patients in various stressful scenarios (like restaurants or parties) and teach them to work through their anxiety in a safe space. It seems to work. As Technology Review points out, a team of researchers conducted a review of 162 studies on the use of VR to treat eating disorders and determined that it is “an acceptable and promising therapeutic tool for patients with eating disorders.”
The treatment isn’t new, exactly (doctors have been testing the use of VR to treat eating disorders since at least 2003), but the technology has advanced significantly and become far more accessible to both patients and doctors.