We had the honor of speaking to Jonathan from Limbix. Limbix is a San Francisco based company that aims to make virtual reality applications widely accessible to clinics and patients. Using software to help treat anxiety-based disorders with exposure therapy, Limbix intends to improve several aspects of healthcare.
1. Thank you for your time, I appreciate it. So Limbix uses VR technology to help patients?
We’ve seen a lot of research supporting virtual reality applications for a variety of mental health including exposure therapy, so a lot of the content we made is built for phobias and other disorders where exposure therapy can be applicable. Things like trauma, anxiety, addiction and other types of cases as well. We’ve also helped build a lot of other programs that can be used to supplement other aspects of therapy such as skills training, mindfulness applications, psychoeducation and other things that that can be used to supplement what’s also done with exposure therapy.
2. When discussing exposure therapy using Virtual Reality, do clients always find it easier to do the real thing afterwards or is there still a disconnection between reality and simulation?
In our experience, what we see in research is that showing the elements of what their fear is or the source of distress is one component of it, but equally important is the therapist training and things they do to help them cope. What we are is a tool that helps therapists who use exposure therapy as part of CBT (Cognitive behavioral therapy) for the way they treat patients. They’ve got a better way of doing that with Limbix. We do see that it is really effective.
The research has shown that to be the case but it still requires inclination to understand how to build a fear hierarchy which is something you do with standard exposure therapy methods today which are generally just imaginal, where you just imagine the issue or in real life which is usually not very practical. Those are the two ways that people do it today. We give a better way of doing it. The research is pretty strong, it shows that VR is equal or if not more effective than classical exposure therapy methods. So I think we’ve seen some pretty awesome successes with that.
3. With VR becoming more accessible to everyone via their smartphones and gaming systems, do you feel this accessibility will be advantageous to psychologists using VR for exposure therapy?
I think in the long run, yes. Right now the way Limbix thinks about it is we build a VR system that is appropriate for use in clinical environments. You can’t go to Best Buy and purchase a consumer VR device and bring it into a hospital, there’s a variety of problems with it. You can imagine a few things like having access to app store accounts, that’s a big liability for a hospital. Patients could download anything. You have to make after market parts that can be sanitizable.
You can’t really have people sharing the same headsets in a hospital environment. There’s other things like functionality whether it needs to be connected to the internet. If you’re using Oculus app store accounts or other consumer devices, you’re going to have to connect to the internet which is generally more friction when you’re trying to make a sale to a hospital because there’s usually requirements around security and other things like that that we can get around by being offline. There’s a bunch of different requirements that hospitals and clinics have to provide to incorporate VR, so we try to address a lot of those with our solution for them.
Now in the long run, what Limibix would like to do is to eventually make some of the stuff we do available on consumer devices, ultimately thinking that might be a way to have wire access. I think for now, VR is very much in its infancy still, although we are seeing some growth so I think the right way to go direct to consumer is not just to put something out in an app store but to go through an FDA process, make sure there is some sort of approval and research that goes behind it before you make something that consumers can use, that way it can be prescribable by a doctor. What we see in this country is a six month wait list for mental health services and things like that, so I think the way consumer VR can be interesting is if you make solutions that can help address people who are stuck on wait lists and can’t get access to care.
4. What is your outlook on the future of this research and development? Any predictions?
I see people in this space making plays at treating things like chronic pain, depression, anxiety, trauma and addiction and I think in all five of those areas there are opportunities to use VR in a way that can help address problems there. I think there’s been a little more than 300 peer reviewed publications in the last 20 years showing VR can be helpful for a variety of healthcare applications, mostly around mental health.
So as these devices get cheaper and cheaper, I expect more and more companies taking advantage of hardware prices coming down and existing research being promising. That’s really the thesis behind Limbix.
My prediction for the future is that with recent changes in the FDA regulatory environment, making things like prescribed digital therapeutics more possible as alternatives to pills, that we’ll see more companies more interested in creating digital devices, whether that’s VR, apps or other things that can be alternatives to taking things like Ritalin, Adderall or antidepressants or other things like that.