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Sumati Gupta, PhD

Dr. Gupta is a licensed psychologist and professor at Barnard College, Columbia University. She specializes in the treatment of anxiety and eating/weight issues at Tribeca Psychology in NYC

Top Eating Disorders Treatment Information


Virtual reality to help treat eating disorders

Treatments for eating disorders are increasingly utilizing new technologies to go beyond traditional forms of therapy. Researchers have been incorporating virtual reality techniques to help adults with body image issues. A new study released online this month investigated how virtual reality can help patients long-term.

The study, to be published in Psychiatry Research, was conducted by researchers in Spain.  They designed a virtual reality program that included 3-D simulations of a person’s body. Wearing a headset, participants would see someone with their own body proportions in different settings. For example, in one setting participants have to manipulate a 3-D human figure until it represents their own body, which is shown nearby as a translucent 2-D image (depicted below)

Perpina, Botella, & Banos (2003) Eur Eat Dis Rev

Another scene asks participants to guess how much space they would need to go through a doorway sideways. As shown below, the participants remove “strips” until they think the gap is big enough for their body.

Perpina, Botella, & Banos (2003) Eur Eat Dis Rev

The virtual reality program included five different environments with tasks designed to help change the way participants thought about their body size and appearance. Women with eating disorders, including bulimia, received cognitive behavior therapy (read more) either alone or with the virtual reality component. 

The researchers found that the virtual reality addition did indeed help reduce eating disorder symptoms more than cognitive behavior therapy alone. However, everyone in the virtual reality condition received a greater number of therapy sessions so it’s possible that might explain the difference. Assuming that virtual reality does in fact help more than cognitive behavior therapy alone, is it practical? It would involve expensive equipment in treatment programs and private offices and specific training for any clinician wanting to use the technology. Hopefully future research will help us know whether or not those costs are worth the benefits. 


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Dr. Gupta is a professor at Barnard College of Columbia University and provides individual therapy at Tribeca Psychology

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