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Using VR for Social Anxiety

Humans are inherently social creatures; without cooperation, we would not have survived as a species and created the societies we have today. We make friends, we form relationships, and we join groups of people with common interests. But for some people, socialization doesn’t bring a feeling of connection; it brings apprehension. People with social anxiety struggle with fears of being judged and see socializing as a form of stress.

Therapy can be a great way for people with social anxiety to work through their issues. The most common forms of treatment are cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy. This combination slowly exposes people to stressful social situations while teaching them coping methods and allowing them to practice what they’ve learned. However, since exposure therapy requires the patient to be placed in a triggering situation, it can be traumatic, especially if the therapist cannot control this exposure. But as virtual reality technology becomes more affordable and more commonplace, more mental health professionals have turned to using VR for social anxiety treatment.

How VR Social Anxiety Treatment Works

Using virtual reality for social anxiety treatment has a variety of benefits, starting with the fact that the patient doesn’t have to travel to a stressful setting, which they may find difficult. All that the person needs to do is show up to their therapy session and don a VR headset similar to those used for gaming and entertainment.

While wearing the VR headset, social anxiety patients are dropped into a simulated social situation. Their therapist can watch how they react and provide coaching, feedback, and stress-management techniques to help them through the situation. The therapist also has control over the simulated environment: If the patient is struggling too much, the program can be stopped and modified to make it easier.

a picture of someone using VR to treat social anxiety

Finding a VR Social Anxiety App

Multiple virtual reality social anxiety apps have joined the market since headsets have become more affordable. Many are meant to be used in professional settings, but some can be used by anybody who has access to a VR headset.

  • OVRcome: This exposure therapy smartphone app includes VR simulations and comes with the headset you’ll need to use it.
  • Sightly: Work through different stressful scenarios with this app, including asking questions in a class, taking criticism, and being teased.
  • VirtualSpeech: Try self-guided training sessions that can improve your ability to speak in front of others.
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