Virtual Reality Enhances Meditative Experience

Virtual Reality Enhances Meditative Experience

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“It seems that a technology that pries your eyes and ears wide open to absorb as much sensory input as possible is working at cross-purposes with a discipline that asks you to forgo distraction, to close your eyes and direct your attention inward.” – Michael Gollust

 

Over the last several decades, research and anecdotal experiences have accumulated an impressive evidential case that the development of mindfulness has positive benefits for the individual’s mental, physical, and spiritual life. Mindfulness appears to be beneficial both for healthy people and for people suffering from a myriad of illnesses. It appears to be beneficial across ages, from children to the elderly. And it appears to be beneficial across genders, personalities, race, and ethnicity. The breadth and depth of benefits is unprecedented. There is no other treatment or practice that has been shown to come anyway near the range of mindfulness’ positive benefits. With impacts so great it is important to know how to promote the development of mindfulness even in individuals who dislike or avoid the discipline of practice.

 

Technology has recently been applied to training in mindfulness. Indeed, mindfulness training carried out completely on-line has been shown to be effective for as number of conditions. But, now virtual reality (VR) devices are improving and becoming readily available. Previously it has been shown the virtual reality (VR) can be helpful in treating phobias. and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). But, can VR enhance the development of mindfulness?

 

In today’s Research News article “Meditation experts try Virtual Reality Mindfulness: A pilot study evaluation of the feasibility and acceptability of Virtual Reality to facilitate mindfulness practice in people attending a Mindfulness conference.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5699841/ ), Navarro-Haro and colleagues had mindfulness experts who were attending a conference on mindfulness evaluate a Virtual Reality system that was designed to enhance the instructions of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). They had the experts wear a VR helmet that presented a scene of floating “down a calm 3D computer generated virtual river while listening to digitized DBT mindfulness skills training instructions.” They listened to one of three 10-minute DBT instructions on “Wise Mind, Observing Sound, or Observing visuals.” Before and after the VR experience they were measured for mindfulness, state of presence, their emotional state, including happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, anxiety, relax/calm vigor/energy, previous experience with technologies and the acceptability of the method.

 

They found that in comparison to their pre-VR state, after the session the participants had significantly higher levels of mindfulness and relaxation and lower levels of sadness, anger, and anxiety. The system was acceptable as the participants gave high ratings to it and the experience. This acceptability was also significantly correlated with the changes in emotions. These results suggest that in the eyes of experts on mindfulness, using Virtual Reality to enhance mindfulness instruction was a good thing and made them feel more mindful and emotionally better.

 

This is a good start. Of course, the next step will be to determine if VR is acceptable and can enhance mindfulness instruction in individuals who were not adept at, or practiced mindfulness. Additionally, this was an extremely short-term experience. It will be necessary to determine the effects of longer-term use of VR. Since, mindfulness training involves quieting the mind, it is possible that the VR stimulus environment may work counter to the goals of mindfulness practice. Finally, it will be necessary to try VR enhanced mindfulness training with individuals with physical and/or psychological problems.

 

Nevertheless, VR is an interesting technology that has been shown to help in treating some forms of psychological issues; phobias. and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and holds promise for further applications. It may be a method that can help train mindfulness even in resistant individuals.

 

“As I continued my exploration of this virtual world, at some point I noticed my mind had gone completely still. The monkey-mind, that great enemy of meditation, mindfulness, and really, of life, had all but vanished. I’d gone from zero to zen and the stillness that followed was glorious.’ – Mind Prana

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Navarro-Haro, M. V., López-del-Hoyo, Y., Campos, D., Linehan, M. M., Hoffman, H. G., García-Palacios, A., … García-Campayo, J. (2017). Meditation experts try Virtual Reality Mindfulness: A pilot study evaluation of the feasibility and acceptability of Virtual Reality to facilitate mindfulness practice in people attending a Mindfulness conference. PLoS ONE, 12(11), e0187777. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0187777

 

Abstract

Regular mindfulness practice benefits people both mentally and physically, but many populations who could benefit do not practice mindfulness. Virtual Reality (VR) is a new technology that helps capture participants’ attention and gives users the illusion of “being there” in the 3D computer generated environment, facilitating sense of presence. By limiting distractions from the real world, increasing sense of presence and giving people an interesting place to go to practice mindfulness, Virtual Reality may facilitate mindfulness practice. Traditional Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT®) mindfulness skills training was specifically designed for clinical treatment of people who have trouble focusing attention, however severe patients often show difficulties or lack of motivation to practice mindfulness during the training. The present pilot study explored whether a sample of mindfulness experts would find useful and recommend a new VR Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT®) mindfulness skills training technique and whether they would show any benefit. Forty four participants attending a mindfulness conference put on an Oculus Rift DK2 Virtual Reality helmet and floated down a calm 3D computer generated virtual river while listening to digitized DBT® mindfulness skills training instructions. On subjective questionnaires completed by the participants before and after the VR DBT® mindfulness skills training session, participants reported increases/improvements in state of mindfulness, and reductions in negative emotional states. After VR, participants reported significantly less sadness, anger, and anxiety, and reported being significantly more relaxed. Participants reported a moderate to strong illusion of going inside the 3D computer generated world (i.e., moderate to high “presence” in VR) and showed high acceptance of VR as a technique to practice mindfulness. These results show encouraging preliminary evidence of the feasibility and acceptability of using VR to practice mindfulness based on clinical expert feedback. VR is a technology with potential to increase computerized dissemination of DBT® skills training modules. Future research is warranted.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5699841/

Improve Borderline Personality Disorder Therapy with Virtual Reality

Image may contain: one or more people, phone, indoor and closeup

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Through virtual reality, the brain can succumb to compelling evidence that you are actually somewhere else. . . not only putting users in a relaxing location, but also completing the exercises, can shift your mood and teach you to live a more mindful life — overcoming the stresses encountered in everyday life.” – Naomi Cornman

 

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a very serious mental illness that is estimated to affect 1.6% of the U.S. population. It involves unstable moods, behavior, and relationships, problems with regulating emotions and thoughts, impulsive and reckless behavior, and unstable relationships. BPD is associated with high rates of co-occurring depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders, self-harm, suicidal behaviors, and completed suicides. Needless to say, it is widespread and debilitating.

 

One of the few treatments that appears to be effective for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). It is targeted at changing the problem behaviors characteristic of BPD including self-injury. Behavior change is accomplished through focusing on changing the thoughts and emotions that precede problem behaviors, as well as by solving the problems faced by individuals that contribute to problematic thoughts, feelings and behaviors. In DPT five core skills are practiced; mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, the middle path, and interpersonal effectiveness.

 

Technology is recently becoming applied to training in mindfulness. Indeed, mindfulness training carried out completely on-line has been shown to be effective for as number of conditions. But, now virtual reality (VR) devices are improving and becoming readily available. Previously it has been shown the virtual reality (VR) can be helpful in treating phobias. It is not known, however, if VR can be used in mindfulness training and in the treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

 

In today’s Research News article “The Use of Virtual Reality to Facilitate Mindfulness Skills Training in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder: A Case Study.” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1429942637029658/?type=3&theater

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01573/full?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Psychology-w45-2016

Nararro-Haro and colleagues performed a single subject case study of the use of VR to potentiate the effects of the mindfulness training used in Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). The participant was a 32-year old woman who was diagnosed with BPD. She was being treated with Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) but was having difficulty with the mindfulness component of DBT. In addition to the standard DBT virtual reality (VR) of floating down a gentle river was used along with the DBT mindfulness audio tracks. The participant was measured during and after training for mindfulness, mood, urges and dysfunctional behaviors.

 

After treatment, the participant had marked reductions in urges to commit suicide, harm herself, quit therapy, and substance abuse. In addition, she had markedly reduced negative emotions. These results are encouraging but there was only a single subject, there was no control condition, and there was no follow-up. So, no firm conclusions about effectiveness can be reached. But the results demonstrate that virtual reality can be employed to help potentiate the effectiveness of therapy of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

 

So, improve borderline personality disorder therapy with virtual reality

 

“Traditional exposure therapy is easier to do when the phobia is of something common and easily accessible. A person afraid of dogs can visit a neighbor’s dog. An agoraphobic can slowly venture outside for short periods of time. But treating phobias like fear of flying or fear of sharks with traditional exposure therapy may be expensive or impractical in real life. That’s where VR has a major advantage. Treating PTSD with VR works similarly, exposing patients to a simulation of a feared situation (a battle in Iraq, for example), and appears to be just as effective.” –  Emily Matchar

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts

 

Study Summary

Nararro-Haro MV, Hoffman HG, Garcia-Palacios A, Sampaio M, Alhalabi W, Hall K and Linehan M (2016) The Use of Virtual Reality to Facilitate Mindfulness Skills Training in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder: A Case Study. Front. Psychol. 7:1573. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01573

 

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a severe mental disorder characterized by a dysfunctional pattern of affective instability, impulsivity, and disturbed interpersonal relationships. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT®) is the most effective treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder, but demand for DBT® far exceeds existing clinical resources. Most patients with BPD never receive DBT®. Incorporating computer technology into the DBT® could help increase dissemination. Immersive Virtual Reality technology (VR) is becoming widely available to mainstream consumers. This case study explored the feasibility/clinical potential of using immersive virtual reality technology to enhance DBT® mindfulness skills training of a 32 year old female diagnosed with BPD. Prior to using VR, the patient experienced difficulty practicing DBT® mindfulness due to her emotional reactivity, and difficulty concentrating. To help the patient focus her attention, and to facilitate DBT® mindfulness skills learning, the patient looked into virtual reality goggles, and had the illusion of slowly “floating down” a 3D computer-generated river while listening to DBT® mindfulness training audios. Urges to commit suicide, urges to self harm, urges to quit therapy, urges to use substances, and negative emotions were all reduced after each VR mindfulness session and VR mindfulness was well accepted/liked by the patient. Although case studies are scientifically inconclusive by nature, results from this feasibility study were encouraging. Future controlled studies are needed to quantify whether VR-enhanced mindfulness training has long term benefits e.g., increasing patient acceptance and/or improving therapeutic outcome. Computerizing some of the DBT® skills treatment modules would reduce cost and increase dissemination.

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01573/full?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Psychology-w45-2016