For people suffering from social anxiety or speech disorders such as stuttering, there may be a virtual reality system that can help. Virtual reality is an emerging technology that people are discovering have so many uses other than just gaming. Different applications are being discovered from the use of VR. Of course, it all started with VR gaming, which is good for the future of the gaming industry, but see what happens when a student at Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom has a potentially far more transformative and alternative use: virtual reality as a therapy tool for social anxiety and speech disorders.
Gareth Walkom is only 24 years old, but when he was 6 years old he developed a stutter. But now at his age he is a medical product design student and he’s in the best position to help others with similar afflictions. In connection to this, he has developed VR software to help people work through social anxieties and speech disorders by confronting a variety of virtual scenarios. According to Walkom, he got his inspiration after reading an article about some military researchers that attempted to use virtual reality to unlock the cure for PTSD among Vietnam veterans.
Also, “during a session of VRET, the individual is to wear the virtual reality headset, where they see an avatar. The individual is to talk to this avatar, and while doing so, their eye gaze behaviors are tracked through the special VR headset. If needed, a calming environment is available, which they can easily change into if their anxiety levels become too high. Virtual reality exposure therapy as opposed to exposure therapy in person, presents a realistic yet safe environment for someone to better prepare themselves for a real-life, anxiety-provoking situation.”
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For now the system is still very much in its developmental stages. However, the signs are very promising for the concept. In tests using a previous virtual reality exposure therapy system Walkom developed, participants who took part showed positive signs of reduced anxiety and improved speech after repeated sessions. Today, Walkom is hoping to build up on his system with his latest version, and the new system also includes eye-tracking technology.
The latest software offers feedback about behavioral anxiety levels and will even show how users are progressing and even suggests additional ways for the system to improve. Walkom is hoping to bring his research to a PhD this year, wherein he wants to reveal his plans that could be groundbreaking to improve more than just the disorders mentioned here. He is also searching for a source to fund his research. With the importance of his work, we are all hoping that he finds the funding because this is exactly the kind of technology the world needs today.