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VR : a new tool for healing sexual harm

Updated: Aug 31, 2023

Soleil Merroir

If you’re someone who often lives in other worlds in your head (like me), VR might be the thing you need for healing. Whether it’s dissociation or visualization, our brains have practiced cerebrally escaping from harm since we first had cognition. VR offers controlled and creative ways to create this experience. In the context of sexual trauma, many folks tell me they have had little success in traditional therapy, thus leading them to alternative tools. While a person trained in this work should ideally support you, there’s lots of ways you could use VR on your own to move through healing as well. We’ll go through the basics of VR, and a few of the facets of it’s use in healing, now.

virtual reality

Over the last 5 years Virtual Reality (VR) has transitioned from the realm of science fiction to an affordable and accessible technology offering immersive experiences that transport users to entirely different worlds. Current uses include entertainment, education, therapy, community and corporate trainings. At its core, VR is a simulated experience that can be similar to or entirely different from the real world. Artists and scientists have dreamed of transversing worlds for centuries, and now we can travel to and build our own worlds specifically to address unique needs related to trauma.

So How Does VR Work?

  • Headsets: These are the primary devices used for VR experiences. They track the user’s head movements and adjust the 3D visuals accordingly.

  • Controllers: These handheld devices allow users to interact with the virtual environment, translating physical movements into digital actions.

  • Sensors: Some VR setups use sensors to track user movement in a defined space, enhancing immersion (including full body tracking and even sensing touch from another party)

In the context of sexual trauma work, the use of VR provides entirely new pathways for healing. This modality is useful in a few specific ways:

  1. VR creates a new type of container to manage safety- a container one can access from the safety of their home, easily exit if needed, change worlds or block a person they are engaging with.

  2. VR worlds provide new opportunities to cultivate safety and healing experiences, including personalized worlds to allow for escaping into blissfully peaceful spaces, or create safe reenactment, or renarrating of traumatic events.

  3. VR provides access to different kinds of human interactions in the community, including supportive friends, support groups, facilitators, to support the work and virtual partners to explore with.

  4. Unique and customizable avatars create opportunities to explore embodiment and engaging with a sexual self differently, creating space for role play, reenactment or regression as you’re re-learning safety in your body as a sexual being.

Before you dive in, here’s a few considerations and suggestions:

  1. If you can, find a facilitator like myself who can support you in the journey.

  2. Any healing work should initially occur with someone IRL with you, so you have support during/ after. It can be unpredicatable to be in a digital space and dive deeply in your psyche and your body, if you need to exit quickly, it’s good to have a person IRL for support.

  3. Go slow, try exploring VR first to build comfort in the space and learn the tools. Learn your likes and dislikes in a space- movement, tools, features, mirrors, avatar features etc.

  4. Learn to give feedback and communicate/ set boundaries in casual situations (ie: make some friends, play a bit in VRC or other worlds, get used to blocking someone, muting someone or changing a world if you’re needing to.)

  5. Practice some of your trauma strategies IRL first, so you can use these as needed in VR. This can include breathing, somatic (body engagement) tools, knowing your body and it’s cues, having a safe space IRL including smells, soft things and other people to process after.

  6. Have a plan for what you’d like to address, explore or heal. The more clarity you have, the more you can tailor the experience to your needs. Some questions to get at this include:

  • What would it feel like if I felt better?

  • What would change about my sexual self or my relationships?

  • How do I want to shift my view of my body/ my genitals?

  • What part of my story/ my trauma/ the things that happened to me, do I relive the most? What would the story be, if it could change? (ie: it’s not my fault, I am powerful and in control of my body, my body is worthy or expression and pleasure again).

The consideration of alternative therapy approaches must be done with care, and I’m here as a facilitator and consultant for those who wish to start this journey. Feel free to e-mail to schedule a consult!

Disclaimer: This article was written by Soleil Merroir, for more articles written by this author click here.

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