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New study reveals enthusiasm over telehealth-based virtual reality improving mental healthcare

A new study by researchers at reveals that therapists think VR-based therapy could offer a more immersive teletherapy experience.

(Charleston, SC, January 18, 2024) In a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (R43MH129065) and set to be published in Virtual Reality, researchers at telehealth company found that combining telehealth with VR may expand therapeutic options for mental healthcare providers and offer more immersive therapy experiences.

The study’s findings come at a significant period in mental healthcare transformation. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization reported a 25% global increase in anxiety and depressive symptoms. Burnout was rampant among mental health providers before the pandemic and has only intensified due to rapidly accelerating demand. Clinicians need ways to extend their capabilities to provide accessible and efficient care.

Combining VR-based therapy with telehealth may be one of those solutions. In this study, researchers described how the mass adoption of telehealth could be further extended with the use of modern consumer VR devices such as the Meta Quest 3. The researchers explored this potential by interviewing 18 mental health therapists about their experiences providing telehealth services and opinions on using VR for telehealth-based therapy. Specifically, the researchers asked therapists who treated anxiety about telehealth-based VR exposure therapy (tele-VRET).

“We know telehealth reduces barriers, enhances therapy, and improves access to care. Through this research, we’re hoping to take telehealth to the next level by capitalizing on VR’s potential to uniquely enhance mental healthcare.”

- Senior author Dr. Brian Bunnell, PhD, Director of Research at, and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of South Florida

The results revealed that the majority of therapists were enthusiastic about the potential to engage patients with VR technologies to build stronger therapeutic alliances. Therapists expressed interest in how VR could facilitate more immersive and interactive telehealth sessions and an overall desire to integrate tele-VRET into their clinical practices. While a minority of therapists expressed doubts about the perceived realism of VR and general concerns about the costs and logistics of VR in practice, there is optimism about its application in therapy settings.

“Overall, we found that telemental health therapists had positive reactions to VR and creative ideas for how to use it in their clinical services,” explained Dr. Triton Ong, PhD. “There’s a lot of excitement about how tele-VRET can make exposure therapy more feasible and accessible, and how tele-VR in general can lead to new opportunities to advance other important forms of evidence-based mental health care.”

About the Authors

The research team led by lead author Triton Ong (Senior Research Associate) and senior author Brian Bunnell (Director of Research). Dr. Ong has a PhD in Psychology with expertise in extended reality for healthcare, behavior science, and tech for health promotion. Dr. Bunnell has a PhD in Clinical Psychology with expertise in using implementation science and biomedical informatics approaches to develop health technology solutions to improve healthcare access and quality.