ISSN: 2640-8031
Annals of Psychiatry and Treatment
Mini Review       Open Access      Peer-Reviewed

Virtual reality, electrophysiology & motion tracking technologies in mental illnesses

Konstantina Aggeli1 and Iakovos Kritikos2*

1Department of Psychology and Brain Science, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, Massachusetts, USA
2Department of Bioengineering, Imperial College London, South Kensington Campus, London, United Kingdom
*Corresponding authors: Iakovos Kritikos, Department of Bioengineering, Imperial College London, South Kensington Campus, London, United Kingdom, E-mail:
Received: 30 May, 2024 | Accepted: 05 June, 2024 | Published: 06 June, 2024
Keywords: Virtual reality; Mental illnesses; Motion tracking; Electrophysiology

Cite this as

Aggeli K, Kritikos I (2024) Virtual reality, electrophysiology & motion tracking technologies in mental illnesses. Ann Psychiatry Treatm 8(1): 023-026. DOI: 10.17352/apt.000060


© 2024 Aggeli K, et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

The following mini-review paper explores the integration of Virtual Reality (VR), motion tracking, and electrophysiological sensors in the context of exposure therapy and mental health treatment. These technologies collectively offer innovative approaches for enhancing therapeutic goals, providing immersive environments, and enabling precise monitoring of physiological responses. The paper discusses their applications, benefits, and potential challenges, underscoring their transformative impact on mental health care.


Exposure therapy is a well-established psychological treatment used to manage anxiety disorders, phobias, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) [1,2]. Traditionally, it involves exposing patients to anxiety-provoking stimuli in real-world settings or through guided imagination, helping them gradually face and diminish their fears. However, recent technological advancements have introduced innovative approaches that enhance how well treatment works and the engagement of exposure therapy. One such technology is Virtual Reality (VR) [3-6], which creates immersive, three-dimensional environments that simulate real-life scenarios. This allows patients to confront their fears in a controlled and safe setting, offering significant advantages over traditional methods by providing a highly customizable and repeatable therapeutic experience [3-6].

Additionally, integrating motion tracking technology [4] enables precise monitoring of a patient’s physical responses during therapy sessions. This real-time feedback allows therapists to adjust treatments to better suit the patient’s needs and track their progress more accurately. Electrophysiological sensors, such as electroencephalography (EEG) [7] and Heart Rate Variability (HRV) monitors [8], further enhance this approach by measuring neural and cardiovascular activity. These sensors provide objective data on the patient’s arousal and emotional state, enabling a total assessment and facilitating more effective, personalized interventions. The combination of VR, motion tracking, and electrophysiological sensors offers a multidisciplinary approach that promises to improve exposure therapy goals and expand its applicability to various mental health disorders.


VR creates immersive, controllable environments that can simulate real-life scenarios without exposing patients to actual danger. This capability is particularly beneficial in exposure therapy, where gradual exposure to feared stimuli is essential [9,10]. Studies have shown that VR-based Exposure Therapy (VRET) can effectively reduce symptoms of PTSD, specific phobias, and social anxiety disorders by providing a safe and controlled setting for patients to confront their fears. One significant advantage of VR is the ability to tailor the virtual environment to the personal needs of the patient. Therapists can adjust the intensity and nature of the stimuli in real time [11,12], allowing for personalized treatment plans. This customization enhances the therapy’s relevance and effectiveness, ensuring that patients are exposed to appropriate levels of challenge and support.

In that customization, additional technologies such as motion tracking cameras enhance the immerses of the virtual environment as well and the incorporation of electrophysiological sensors may dynamically change the Exposure Therapy treatment based on the patient’s needs; in more detail.

Enhancing engagement and feedback

Motion tracking technology captures and analyzes the patient’s movements in real-time. In exposure therapy, motion tracking can monitor physical responses to anxiety-provoking stimuli, providing valuable feedback to both patients and therapists [13,14]. This data can help in understanding the patient’s progress and adjusting the therapy accordingly. Motion tracking can also facilitate teletherapy by allowing therapists to monitor patients’ physical responses remotely [15]. This capability is particularly valuable in contexts where in-person therapy sessions are impractical, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic or for patients in remote locations. By providing accurate data on physical responses [16,17], motion tracking ensures that therapists can still deliver high-quality care from a distance.

Monitoring physiological responses

Electrophysiological sensors, such as EEG [7] and Heart Rate Variability (HRV) monitors, measure the body’s physiological responses to stress and anxiety. Integrating these sensors with VR and motion tracking systems allows for a total assessment of a patient’s physiological and psychological states during therapy sessions. These sensors provide real-time data on neural and cardiovascular activity, which can be used to assess the patient’s level of arousal and emotional state [18]. This information is invaluable for therapists as it provides objective metrics to gauge the effectiveness of the therapy and make necessary adjustments. For example, if a patient exhibits elevated heart rates or heightened brain activity in response to certain stimuli, the therapist can modulate the intensity of the exposure to better manage the patient’s anxiety levels [3,19].

The combination of VR, motion tracking, and electrophysiological sensors offers a synergistic approach to exposure therapy [20,21]. VR provides an immersive environment, motion tracking ensures accurate monitoring of physical responses, and electrophysiological sensors deliver real-time data on physiological states. Together, these technologies enable a holistic understanding of the patient’s experience and facilitate more precise and effective interventions.

Research into these technologies enhances the therapeutic process by providing immersive, customizable environments and real-time physiological monitoring, leading to more effective and personalized care. While challenges such as usability, standardization, and ethical considerations remain, addressing these issues through focused research and interdisciplinary collaboration will unlock the full potential of these tools. Ultimately, the continued development and refinement of these technologies promise to transform mental health care, offering innovative solutions for improved patient results indicates that integrating these technologies can lead to improved patient results [22]. Patients often report higher levels of engagement and a greater sense of presence in VR environments compared to traditional therapy settings. The ability to monitor and respond to both physical and physiological responses in real time allows for a more adaptive and responsive therapeutic approach, potentially leading to faster and more sustained improvements in mental health conditions [23].


The integration of Virtual Reality (VR), motion tracking, and electrophysiological sensors into exposure therapy has shown promising results in enhancing treatment goals for various mental health conditions. These technologies offer immersive, controllable environments and real-time monitoring of physiological responses, enabling more tailored and effective therapeutic interventions. However, several challenges need to be addressed to fully realize their potential. Future research should focus on improving the usability and accessibility of these systems by developing user-friendly interfaces, reducing equipment costs, and creating portable solutions. Establishing standardized protocols and guidelines for clinical use is essential to ensure consistent and effective application. Longitudinal studies are also necessary to assess the long-term efficacy and safety of these interventions, providing a total understanding of their impact over time.

In addition to these practical considerations, ethical issues about data privacy and patient consent must be prioritized. Developing robust data protection protocols and ensuring regulatory compliance will be crucial in maintaining patient trust. Furthermore, interdisciplinary collaboration across fields such as psychology, engineering, and computer science is essential for advancing these technologies and translating research into clinical practice. Exploring novel applications beyond traditional exposure therapy, such as enhancing mindfulness training or improving cognitive-behavioral therapy for depression, can expand the therapeutic potential of these tools. By addressing these challenges and focusing on innovation, the integration of VR, motion tracking, and electrophysiological sensors can significantly improve mental health care and provide more effective, personalized treatment options for patients.

Finally, it is important to consider the known negative effects of VR therapy on anxiety disorders, phobias, and PTSD. Some patients may experience cybersickness [24,25], a form of motion sickness induced by VR environments, which can cause symptoms like dizziness, nausea, and disorientation. Additionally, VR therapy may sometimes lead to increased anxiety if the virtual environments are too intense or not adequately tailored to the patient’s tolerance levels. These adverse effects are relatively rare and often manageable, but they highlight the need for careful calibration of VR scenarios. When compared to real exposure therapy, VR offers the advantage of a controlled and safe environment, reducing the risk of encountering unpredictable variables present in real-world settings. However, real exposure therapy can sometimes provide a confrontation with fears, which might be necessary for some patients to achieve significant breakthroughs. Both methods have their unique benefits and drawbacks, and the choice between them should be guided by personal patient needs and preferences.


These technologies enhance the therapeutic process by providing immersive, customizable environments and real-time physiological monitoring, leading to more effective and personalized care. While challenges such as usability, standardization, and ethical considerations remain, addressing these issues through focused research and interdisciplinary collaboration will unlock the full potential of these tools. Ultimately, the continued development and refinement of these technologies promise to transform mental health care, offering innovative solutions for improved patient results.

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