Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy

, Volume 43, Issue 4, pp 207–221 | Cite as

Virtual Reality Based Treatments in Eating Disorders and Obesity: A Review

  • Marta Ferrer-Garcia
  • José Gutiérrez-Maldonado
  • Giuseppe Riva
Original Paper


Since the late 1990s the use of virtual reality (VR) has expanded in the field of mental disorders. During this time, several VR-based applications have been developed for the treatment of eating disorders (ED) and obesity. Both these pathologies involve disturbances related to eating behavior, weight, and body image. Although effective and well-established protocols are now available for the treatment of ED and obesity, relapses are frequent and a proportion of patients do not improve after intervention. In this context, VR has been shown to be a useful technology for enhancing traditional cognitive-oriented therapies. The main objective of this review was therefore to examine the evidence regarding the efficacy of VR-based treatments as a component of therapeutic interventions for ED and obesity. To this end, three databases (PsycInfo, Medline, and PsycArticles) were searched for the period 1986–2012. Only research articles and case studies were selected. Although several methodological deficiencies were detected in the reviewed studies, there is fair evidence for the effectiveness of VR-based treatments in ED and obesity. VR-based interventions usually combine exposure to VR environments with cognitive therapies. The VR component seems to be especially suitable for reducing body image disturbances, such as body image dissatisfaction, and for increasing self-esteem and self-efficacy. The rationale for the use of VR in these areas is also presented and discussed.


Virtual reality Treatment Eating disorders Binge eating disorders Obesity Review 



This study was supported by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (Project PSI2011-28801: “Virtual Reality Cue Exposure Treatment for Bulimia Nervosa”).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marta Ferrer-Garcia
    • 1
  • José Gutiérrez-Maldonado
    • 1
  • Giuseppe Riva
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Personality, Assessment, and Psychological TreatmentsUniversitat de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.Istituto Auxologico ItalianoApplied Technology for Neuro-Psychology LaboratoryMilanItaly

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