Healing with Headsets: Virtual Reality Shows Promise for Treating Substance Use Disorders – VCU News


Some veterans who have battled drug use disorders for the past two years regularly visit the island’s campground as part of their therapy. They meditated, took hot air balloon rides, took transcontinental road trips, and fetched and played with wolves.

Everything is inside a virtual reality headset.

Developed by Virginia Commonwealth University psychologists and a renowned Richmond-based visual effects artist, TST Retreat is an immersive experience created to help and guide individuals struggling with addiction and mental health conditions. is an interactive VR environment.

“One of our patients told us he would have quit treatment without this VR program,” said the clinical brain power behind TST Retreat and co-founder of Mental Health and Medical Services. Jarrod Raisweber, MD, A substance use disorder treatment program called Transcendental Self-Therapy. He is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the VCU College of Humanities and a clinical psychologist in the Central Virginia VA Health Care System.

Roots and meaning of TST

Over the past decade, Riisweber has developed the Transcendental Self-Health Program with other VCU and VA clinicians and researchers. TST retreats are based on the concept of cognitive-behavioral therapy, facilitating treatment through behavioral change for recovery from addiction, depression, and other mental health conditions.

Reisweber’s program adds another layer to CBT by advocating not just behavioral change, but connecting with others and pursuing passions that align with one’s moral compass and spiritual beliefs.

“At TST, instead of chasing the traps of the world, we look inside ourselves to see what is good and what is right, and pursue it,” said Ricewebber. “Studying TST and applying it to your life will greatly improve your potential and quality of life.”

That is the goal of the TST Retreat. Using virtual reality to put into practice concepts learned during face-to-face therapy, increase understanding of TST concepts, increase treatment satisfaction and recovery.

Bring TST to life in VR

Mark Lambert is a Richmond-based visual effects and VR developer whose film work includes ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’ and ‘The Polar Express’. In 2015 he started producing in VR, working with companies around the world, and later founded his company Lighthouse XR with his wife.

They had an idea for a VR platform that would help people with addictions and mental health conditions “find their way to recovery,” he said. But we needed someone with clinical expertise.

Lambert was introduced to Reisweber through Brent Fagg, Senior License Manager at VCU TechTransfer and Ventures. Mr. Lambert serves on the firm’s advisory board.

“I tried to find out what TST was,” Lambert said. “And we realized that Jarrod and the TST program were exactly what we were looking for.”

A man wearing a suit and tie and wearing a VR headset sits at a desk
Jarrod Reisweber, Ph.D. in Psychology, is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at VCU and a clinical psychologist in the Central Virginia VA Health Care System. (Photo Credit: Central Virginia VA Health Care System)

Lambert and Riceweber began construction of the TST Retreat in early 2020. Its intellectual property is protected by his VCU and the Department of Veterans Affairs. After extensive user interviews and initial concept development, the team developed a version that included four of his TST sessions, which were then increased to ten of his 30-minute lessons. TST Retreat will begin clinical trials in veterans at the Veterans Affairs Corps of Central Virginia in December 2021 and is currently expanding to veterans’ facilities in Minneapolis, Eastern Massachusetts, and Raleigh, North Carolina.

Early results are promising, Reisweber said. Researchers worked with VCU and VA neuroscientist Dr. Jim Björk on data management and surveyed 81 patients and overwhelmingly found the platform helpful, easy to use, and easy to use . Rice Webber plans to present the first findings to Congress on June 7.

They insist that TST retreats complement, not replace, traditional therapies.

“It gives clinicians a wider range of treatments,” said Reisweber. This is intended for the patient’s homework (practice) in addition to her weekly one-hour face-to-face therapy sessions.

Playing “The Retreat”

Patients don VR headsets and explore an open-world VR environment around a waterfront cabin. TST retreats offer lessons and hours of quizzes, mini-games and meditations. Reisweber himself is featured in his The TST Retreat, teaching TST lessons.

Anyone who plays video games regularly will find the mechanics of TST Retreat user-friendly, with sharp and smooth gameplay that rivals mainstream gaming systems. (Those familiar with the iconic 1993 game Myst will undoubtedly notice the similarities.)

Certainly not all TST retreats are meant to teach. Some mini-games and experiences serve as a distraction, such as a transcontinental road trip or fetch and play with wolves. “When you want to relax a little bit, it’s positivity at 2 a.m.,” says Lambert.

TST Retreat incorporates some of Lambert’s other works through his company VArtisans. The patient will be able to travel across the United States in a convertible while enjoying 360-degree views of her in the headset. All of which were filmed by Lambert’s team for another project. Users can fly hot air balloons over the Alps and Kenyan reserves, or join her on a double-decker bus tour of cities like Paris and Rome. These programs are used for geriatric mental health applications for seniors, but they also have similar applications for those in recovery to get out and explore the world for a few minutes.

The platform is funded in part by grants from VCU, the Veterans Health Administration Innovation Ecosystem, and the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation. Both Lambert and his wife have families who have faced substance use disorders, and have invested funds in making substance use disorders a reality.

3D image of the room
The stage of “TST Retreat”. The goal of the TST Retreat is to use virtual reality to put into practice the concepts learned during face-to-face therapy, increase understanding of TST concepts, increase treatment satisfaction and recovery. (Image: Lighthouse XR)

“This is something we truly believe in and have invested a lot of our own savings into establishing TST Retreat,” Lambert said. “We took this action because we thought it could really make a difference and help people in recovery.”

Reissweber said he has full confidence in the continued improvement of Lambert and his team working together, with the goal of making the TST retreat an integral part of treatment.

“We believe that recovery will be paramount if we rely on this TST process. We want them to become their own therapists, reduce their reliance on us as a provider, and live happy lives.” Riceweber said.

“This is a restorative treatment. This is a philosophical change that allows people to enjoy and tolerate life without drugs.”

For more information on TST, visit transdesingselftherapy.com.