Simulation-Based Rehabilitation and Mental Health: A Promising Alternative

Christina Andaya
August 10, 2023

A cost-effective and safe alternative to traditional rehabilitation approaches has been gaining popularity in recent years: simulation-based rehabilitation (SBR). With these innovative techniques, patients can simulate real-life situations and practice coping skills in a controlled, safe environment using emerging technologies, such as virtual reality (VR).

Personalized Treatment

Simulation-based rehabilitation and mental health interventions can be tailored to the specific needs of individuals. An anxious patient, for example, could practice facing their fears in a simulated environment, gradually increasing the difficulty as their confidence and control increased. This is part of the mental resilience rehabilitation training that is also seen with service military, army and air force members and veterans to return to their original state prior to the traumatic event. This is “crucial to improving performance and sustaining emotional and psychological well-being” (Granek et al, 2016). Thus, patients with various mental health issues can be treated with exposure therapy via SBR.

Patients may also practice activities of daily living in a virtual setting, strengthening their independence while avoiding the risks associated with real-world practice. “Individuals can enter simulations of the difficult situations and be coached in the appropriate responses, based upon the best theoretical understanding of the specific disorder” (Freeman et al., 2017). In SBR's cognitive rehabilitation programs, brain function is stimulated through interactive activities, games, and simulations. Cognitive rehabilitation using SBR can improve memory, attention, and executive function.

Redefining Care for Veterans

Research has shown that simulation-based interventions can effectively improve a range of mental health and rehabilitation outcomes. For instance, one study found that VR-based exposure therapy was effective in reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among veterans. As cited in the work of Rizzo and Shilling (2017), "The progression of the disorder in some veterans significantly impacted their psychological well-being, functional abilities, and quality of life, as well as that of their families and friends". This highlights the critical need for innovative approaches like simulation-based interventions to address the multifaceted impacts of mental health disorders, particularly among individuals with diverse trauma experiences.

As Rizzo and Shilling (2017) pointed out, "One of the primary goals for this effort was to increase the diversity of the VR scenario content and improve the customizability of scenario and stimulus delivery to better address the needs of clinical users who presented with a diverse range of trauma experiences". By tailoring simulation-based interventions to individual experiences, this technology becomes a powerful tool in promoting effective and personalized mental health care.

Through incorporating this level of customization and personalization, simulation-based interventions provide a more targeted and effective approach to mental health treatment for veterans. As Freeman et al. (2017) noted, veterans "will much more easily face difficult situations in VR than in real life and be able to try out new therapeutic strategies". It allows clinicians to precisely tailor the therapeutic experience, ensuring that each patient's specific traumas and triggers are adequately addressed, leading to more favourable treatment outcomes.

Therefore, simulation-based interventions empower veterans to confront their traumatic experiences safely within the controlled environment of virtual reality. This innovative form of exposure therapy enables them to gradually build resilience, reduce their anxiety, and foster emotional healing.

Enhancing Patient Health through Simulation

Simulation-based rehabilitation (SBR) and mental health interventions offer a promising approach to improving patient outcomes while reducing the costs and risks associated with traditional methods. According to Emmelkamp and Meyerbröker (2021), “the increasing availability of VR devices and the rapid development of VR technologies have significantly reduced the cost of VR hardware, making it more accessible for patients”. By receiving treatment in a safe and controlled environment, patients can reduce the risks associated with real-world practice.

Moreover, SBR and mental health interventions can be more cost-effective and accessible for patients who have limited access to traditional rehabilitation services. As Freeman et al. (2017) suggest, “VR can improve access to the most effective psychological treatments and may become the preferred method for psychological treatment, replacing the traditional couch with a headset”. Overall, the promising research and cost-effectiveness of SBR can be achieved through a safe space.

The Future of Healthcare

As technology continues to advance, simulation-based rehabilitation and mental health interventions are expected to become even more sophisticated and widely used in the coming years. These innovative techniques offer a promising way to improve patient outcomes while reducing costs and risks associated with traditional approaches, making them an important area of focus for the healthcare industry. In other words, as Rizzo and Shilling (2017) suggest, “There are new possibilities that go beyond the simple automation of previous clinical assessment and intervention approaches”. Simulation-based rehabilitation and mental health interventions have the potential to revolutionize the way we approach treatment. As healthcare professionals continue to explore and refine these techniques, we are likely to see more widespread adoption and integration of simulation-based interventions into clinical practice.

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Emmelkamp, P. M., & Meyerbröker, K. (2021). Virtual reality therapy in mental health. Annual review of clinical psychology, 17, 495-519. Chicago.

Freeman, D., Reeve, S., Robinson, A., Ehlers, A., Clark, D., Spanlang, B., & Slater, M. (2017). Virtual reality in the assessment, understanding, and treatment of mental health disorders. Psychological medicine, 47(14), 2393-2400. Chicago

Granek, J. A., Jarmasz, J., Boland, H., Guest, K., & Bailey, S. (2016). Mobile applications for personalized mental health resiliency training. In Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation, and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) (Vol. 16120).

Rizzo, A. A., & Shilling, R. (2017). Clinical Virtual Reality tools to advance the prevention, assessment, and treatment of PTSD. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 8(sup5), 1414560. DOI: 10.1080/20008198.2017.1414560

written by
Christina Andaya
Social Media and Communications Specialist