Background: Several virtual reality (VR) applications for the understanding, assessment and treatment of mental health problems have been developed in the last 10 years. The purpose of this review is to outline the current state of virtual reality research in the treatment of mental health problems.
Methods: PubMed and PsycINFO were searched for all articles containing the words "virtual reality". In addition a manual search of the references contained in the papers resulting from this search was conducted and relevant periodicals were searched. Studies reporting the results of treatment utilizing VR in the mental health field and involving at least one patient were identified.
Results: More than 50 studies using VR were identified, the majority of which were case studies. Seventeen employed a between groups design: 4 involved patients with fear of flying; 3 involved patients with fear of heights; 3 involved patients with social phobia/public speaking anxiety; 2 involved people with spider phobia; 2 involved patients with agoraphobia; 2 involved patients with body image disturbance and 1 involved obese patients. There are both advantages in terms of delivery and disadvantages in terms of side effects to using VR. Although virtual reality based therapy appears to be superior to no treatment the effectiveness of VR therapy over traditional therapeutic approaches is not supported by the research currently available.
Conclusions: There is a lack of good quality research on the effectiveness of VR therapy. Before clinicians will be able to make effective use of this emerging technology greater emphasis must be placed on controlled trials with clinically identified populations.