Virtual Reality as Cybertherapy - Myth or Medicine?

Cybertherapy is a new and adventurous field of therapy that aims to harness the power of cutting edge multimedia in order to allow patients to explore and contend with virtual representations of situations that cause them distress. Hoping to exploit a time-tested therapeutic technique known as systematic desensitization, scientists, doctors and therapists that are interested in the advent of cybertherapy can hand a pair of 3D glasses to a patient, have them enter into a pre-scripted and designed virtual experience (strikingly similar to Star Trek's Holodeck) and begin to push their own boundaries and comfort levels in a controlled environment.

Their therapists can even watch, in real time, the spatial experience of their patient, thanks to a computer monitor hooked up to display the same scenario as the patient experiences it. For people suffering from agoraphobia, or a fear of wide open spaces, their cybertherapy sessions might start off with a virtual trip to a medium-sized community playground. The patient could edge their way onto the territory, while being counseled and encouraged by his in-room therapist to resist common anxiety cues; encouraged to edge ever deeper into the very territory that moments before caused him intense dread.

Whether or not cybertherapy will be of ultimate importance or have a significant impact on mental medicines, it represents an emerging field of medicine that seems to have forged a tenuous relationship at the intersection of computer science and personal psychology.

What Are the Potential Downfalls of Cybertherapy?

Cybertherapy has been criticized for a fundamental misapprehension of the human experience. When a patient undergoing cybertherapy enters into a pre-programmed scenario, he or she is often going to interact with entities, such as cyber dogs, cyber mailmen and even cyber spouses, and it is precisely these interactions which are designed to effect a therapeutic carryover to the patient's real-world behaviors.

Unfortunately for many would-be cybertherapy patients, many vocal cybertherapy critics have pointed out the fact that all available virtual scenarios to be played in these types of therapy sessions are only going to be as convincing and effective as the engineer that wrote them was brilliantly well-versed in the fine subtle details that make up the totality of experience.

Essentially the point is that the world, a flower, the experience of sitting with another person in a public place, will always been so perfectly complex that even the most ambitious model of experience would fall insultingly short of an actual experience in the world; the therapeutic value of virtual reality programs would have been utterly dismissed.