Michelle Craske is asking patients to dive into coral reefs, ride on bullet trains rushing past pine trees, and cheer on soccer teams from the stands — at least virtually — in a bid to tackle a symptom long sidelined in depression treatment.
The University of California, Los Angeles, psychiatry researcher and her colleagues are testing whether virtual reality can curb anhedonia, a symptom of depression and other serious mental health conditions that’s marked by a lack of interest or ability to feel pleasure. They’re putting patients into pleasant scenarios — like a stroll through a sun-soaked forest while piano music plays — and coaching them to pay close attention to the positive parts. The idea is to help patients learn to plan positive activities, take part in them, and soak up the good feelings in the process.
There aren’t data yet to determine whether virtual reality treatment can make a meaningful difference in anhedonia. But the technology is increasingly popular in mental health care. Other studies have suggested virtual reality can be useful in easing certain phobias, helping people with psychotic disorders experience less paranoia and anxiety in public settings, and reducing social anxiety.
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