Virtual Reality: Is It Really Any Better than Guided Imagery? | Print |  E-mail
Monday, 05 April 2010
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Hello again.

I was intrigued and puzzled by the results from last weekís Virtual Reality research, showing that a session of virtual reality relaxation actually increased the perceived pain by 30% of burn patients getting their dressings changed (already a very painful procedure).  I wondered if it had anything to do with giving the session ahead of time (instead of during the procedure), thus increasing the anticipation of pain; or if it had to do with using straight relaxation content, as opposed to distraction content.  (An older study with chemo patients showed that distraction was far more effective at alleviating anxiety and distress than relaxation imagery during that procedure.)  

I went looking in the data bases and was amazed at the number of VR studies proliferating, in spite of the dearth of solid data in support of its efficacy - there are as many encouraging findings as equivocal or discouraging data, and the numbers of subjects in most of these articles are pretty low - either case studies or very small pilots.  One multi-site study is underway in the military which hopefully will yield some decent findings.

Iíll report back in more detail, but so far, whatís showing up is that VR may be helpful in training surgical residents and staff in certain complicated procedures (without experimenting on actual live bodies); in helping remediate certain deficits from stroke, especially gait-related problems; and it may or may not be more effective than imaginal exposure therapy in reducing posttraumatic and combat stress.

And I guess thatís the question I have: is using this very expensive equipment any better than simple guided imagery at improving symptoms?  And if itís no better, why are we focusing so heavily on this intervention?  Could it be weíre irrationally blinded by an infatuation with sexy technology?
 
Why indeed would we think it would be more salutary to simulate external events that replicate real external events, rather than having a subject go inward, into the body and the psyche, for sensation and perception?  

In short, I donít get it.  Not yet, anyway. Iím open to be shown Iím wrong, but up to now, I canít find the data to disabuse me of my assumptions.  At least now that so many studies are getting completed and posted - dozens this year alone - we should be getting some answers or at least direction soon.

In the meantime, Iíve posted one study on this weekís Hot Research page and itís showing no difference between VR and exposure therapy in soldiers with combat stress at Camp Fallujah in Iraq.  Check it out if you have a minute.

Healthful Sleep Relieve Stress Ease Pain Stress Hardiness Optimization
Successful Surgery Caregiver Stress Chemotherapy


And that reminds me, speaking of military matters, we now have 20 of our guided imagery audios available for you delivered via PLAYAWAYs, the durable little widget - a high-quality, preloaded, digital audio player thatís all-in-one and ready to go.  You can send your favorite soldier our guided imagery for stress, sleep or stress hardiness training, and itíll be the gift that keeps on giving.  Same with your favorite chemo, radiation, surgery or dialysis patient.  This is all they need to take with them if youíre worried that they wonít have a CD player or MP3 with them - and itís fully sterilizable and congruent with a hospital or clinical setting.  So when you get onto a product page, take a look to see if itís also available on Playaway, along with the standard options of cassettes, CDs and downoads.

Lynne Newman
ís brand new CD, Divine Alchemy, is now in the warehouse.   Like her other work, this guided meditation is pretty amazing - inspired and profound.  Itís about nothing less than transforming your life, transcending difficulties, connecting with powerful spiritual sources and helping the rest of humanity.  Lynne uses her very favorite image, the rainbow, as the central element that guides and weaves her narrative, catalyzing empowerment and change.  As with all her CDs, this has Steve Kohnís wonderful music supporting and enhancing it.  Check it out here.

OK, take care and be well!

All best,

 



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Comments (2)Add Comment
...
written by Ann, April 07, 2010
Belleruth,

Who is funding these studies? I suspect that researchers who are in a publish-or-perish environment are finding it easier to get funding from the NIH or VA or other major funders, who like the "modern" and "innovative" appearance of virtual reality.

You should write a letter to the editor of the journal in which the VR study appeared, saying exactly what you say here -- that plain old imagery is as effective, maybe more so, as virtual reality, and more cost-effective. Support it with a few citations. If it's published, it may encourage a researcher or two to pursue the less glitzy route of plain old imagery.
...
written by Gayle, April 07, 2010
I think Ann makes a good point. I would guess some research is being funded by manufacturers of the software and equipment as well.
I have my own hypothesis regarding guided imagery versus virtual reality: That with guided imagery, the individual is being given building blocks to create a "reality" that is useful to them, and that virtual reality supplies more of that experience externally; therefore guided imagery promotes more of a sense of control over the experience/therapy. I'm not sure how to test this other than to first do some sort of exploratory study asking people what their experiece was of each modality . .
I agree that VR might have better uses in other arenas.

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