By Karen Unland
An Edmonton-based startup is working on a way to combine therapy with virtual reality to help more people access the help they need in a way that sticks.
VR Pathways delivers cognitive behavioural therapy in virtual reality sessions via an app called VRBrain. It's pre-revenue but has received positive feedback from those who have tried it, and co-founders Leanne Brownoff and Danielle Bragge are working on the next steps with the help of the TELUS Community Safety and Wellness Accelerator.
"We definitely have a very exciting future moving forward with all things VR and mental wellness," Brownoff told Taproot. "We just want people to be able to put it back into their own hands and not have to feel like they don't have any control."
VR Pathways emerged in part from observations Brownoff was making as a business coach.
"The businesses that I was coaching, they were hiring me to help them meet their ROIs and to help them with strategies. But when I looked at it, the teams themselves were really struggling just to show up," she said. "Everything (at home) was a struggle. And then they walk in at eight o'clock in the morning, and they're already stressed. And the day hasn't even really started."
Bragge was noticing the same thing in her recruitment practice. But the help people needed so they could get into a place where they could be productive was scarce and hard to ask for.
Their search for answers pointed to the benefits of cognitive behavioural therapy for counteracting the brain's tendency to get stuck on the negative. VR also kept coming up as a powerful way to encourage the retention of messages. So combining CBT and VR seemed to have promise. VR Pathways was born to see what that promise could lead to, just as the pandemic was about to make everything even more mentally challenging.