Virtual and augmented reality technologies have massive potential to change how we interact with the world on a daily baily through countless applications, some explored and others awaiting discovery. One such area in which it is believed that virtual reality could make a difference is in the support of mental health among the workforce, and some companies around the world are beginning to make this once-far-fetched idea a reality.

Over in Spain, AR/VR company Psious have reportedly developed ways to use VR and AR to help mental health and behavioural issues from phobias to anxiety disorders. The Madrid-based company’s Chief Executive, Xavier Palomer, recently had a conversation with The Guardian in which he explained his motivation for launching the company and offered some insight into the applications of the technology.

“We initially launched Psious to provide exposure therapy; you can use AR to show spiders to someone who is afraid of them, for example, without having to show them real ones or rely on imagination,” explained Palomer. “It can be used to help people calm their nerves, relax, become better speakers; all useful things.”

Palomer says he tapped into an existing and ongoing trend within the professional world as clients were already beginning to introduce mindfulness programmes at the office, and so they were more than ready to embrace the idea. As the technology has become cheaper and more accessible, he asserts, possibilities have opened up.

Some however, such as Sarah Crozier, a senior lecturer in occupational psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University, warn of the potential negative ramifications of attempting to deal with such issues solely through technological means, such as the AR/VR tech in question. Rather, a more holistic approach is required.

“It is encouraging to see that organisations are equipping their employees with these resources that can potentially help to manage wellbeing,” says Crozier. “But there is the possibility of overburdening ourselves with smartphone technology - it becomes a further demand and can replace engagement with social support (such as spending time with family and friends), which we know is very helpful in promoting our wellbeing.”

Just as Palomer and Psious are not alone in their endeavour to utilise AR and VR technologies for therapeutic purposes, Crozier is not the only critic urging caution. She is joined by Michaela Edwards, a lecturer in organisational health and wellbeing at the University of Lancaster, who warns that while some apps can offer assistance, they are not a viable, standalone solution.

“When you’re thinking about wellbeing and stress, it’s important to think about all of the possible causes - individual factors, yes, but also organisational factors. A mindfulness app can’t reduce your workload or train your manager, for example,” says Edwards. “If wellbeing issues are related to broader organisational problems, then an app may be a misdiagnosis of the problem.

“Employers might find that employees can sometimes be quite suspicious of why the app is being given out. And that’s something to think about. People have to know that their manager really cares about how they feel about something, and they are not just being given an app to make them more productive.”

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor as he continues to expand his horizons.
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