A Real Book Review by Denise Silber for VRforHealth, the first in our recommended book series
In keeping with its title, How Virtual Therapeutics Will Revolutionize Medicine by Dr Brennan Spiegel, tells the story of what Virtual Reality can bring to medicine. As such the ideal reader might seem to be a geek or a clinician or both. But that would be a limited perspective. This book, which draws uniquely upon references from multiple disciplines — philosophy, the neurosciences, medicine, and technology– is also the opportunity to reflect on our self-imposed limits. The author takes great pains to explain in simple terms, not only the mechanisms of Virtual Reality and how this technique affects the user, but also why we must re-consider the mind-body relationship and its impact on our lived experience. Finally, the reader comes to understand that we have the freedom to break out of those patterns and perceptions in our mind, that do not bring us joy. And this, to me, is THE revolution.
How Virtual Therapeutics Will Revolutionize Medicine is written in three sections. In the first part, “Our Bodies, Our Selves,” Dr Spiegel explains what Virtual Reality is and the science behind it. He explains in such vivid detail the VR scenarios to which he is subjected, that we see through his mind’s eye. And the examples are particularly intense. They involve leaping to one’s virtual death and having an out of body experience. It is no mean feat for an author to use only words to describe an event that requires 3D special effects to achieve. But Dr Spiegel combines the observational skills of a clinician with the writing style of an author of suspense thrillers. The scientific passages are not only easy to digest, they hold the reader’s attention.
In the second section of the book, “Virtual Medicine”, the reader learns how therapeutic virtual reality is being used in clinical practice in a variety of indications including the pain of childbirth and various forms of severe, chronic pain. The patients described are real people with great depth, and in particular for the chronic pain, who have indeed known great suffering. I had the fortune of meeting and getting to know three of these wonderful people and their stories, in connection with the medical conferences organized by the author. And in the final section, Dr Spiegel gives new meaning and hope to a “Brave New World”, in which Virtual Reality is an empathy machine enabling us to better understand our selves and the other, by enabling us to literally see through the other’s perspective.
Through the reading, I found myself on a beautiful journey around the understanding of the mind, our perception of life, death, fear, pain,…combined with clinical research references, and content from lectures I’ve attended with Dr Spiegel and his colleagues. And I want it all. I want to be in this universe, benefit from it and help others access it…
So if a good review looks at both the strengths and weaknesses of the object of the review, what is less than perfect? The book is beautifully written, richly referenced, and we end the story full of hope. However, thanks to the author’s balanced approach explaining what we do and don’t know, we realize that we are only at the beginning of the road. We cannot close the pages of the book and go out and benefit from therapeutic VR, by snapping our fingers. We need to be in the right circumstances, with the right guide, if we want to take from this experience, the significant benefits described in the book.VR is a powerful tool and must be managed properly.
Ultimately, How Virtual Therapeutics Revolutionizes Medicine constitutes a call for collaboration. And VRforHealth is here to answer the call.
Let us end on two beautiful passages about Virtual Reality.
(With VR) “…We can imagine being somewhere fantastic and healing. We can practice being the person we want to become. We can see ourselves from beyond and regard ourselves in a new light. We can empathize with ourselves and with others. We can confront our inner voice. We can transform our minds drastically and immediately, and when effective, forge health cognitions that last long after the headsets are removed. We have already have these abilities within us. VR just makes it easier when times are hard.”Dr. Brennan Spiegel
“When used in the right way, in the right people, and at the right time, VR brings wonder and beauty to mankind. If nothing else, it offers joy. And joy is good. We should leverage that like crazy.”