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Virtual therapist Xaia delivers immersive mental health support on Apple Vision Pro

By donning an Apple Vision Pro headset, people seeking mental health support can now access a virtual therapist whose mind will never wander and who remembers everything said during a session. Developed at Cedars-Sinai's extended-reality lab, humanoid robot Xaia offers personalized care using proven psychotherapeutic techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy, supportive talk therapy and motivational interviewing.

Xaia stands for eXtended reality Artificially Intelligent Ally; the platform uses AI to analyze current conversations and synthesize information from past sessions to generate helpful responses. Fostering a sense of empathy and connection, Xaia makes eye contact and can produce a wide array of true-to-life facial expressions. While she isn't meant to be a substitute for human therapists, issues within Xaia's scope include such topics as divorce, lay-offs, interpersonal problems and mild depression and anxiety. 

For an additional layer of engagement, sessions aren't conducted in an office-like setting. Instead, the platform leverages Apple Vision Pro's next-level resolution and spatial computing to create highly detailed biophilic VR environments that augment a patient's emotional state. A therapy session might be offered in a lush forest, while an AI-tailored meditation could transport the user to a beach at dawn.

The technology has been exclusively licensed to VRx Health, and Xaia is available on the App Store worldwide, with therapy offered through paid subscriptions.

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A global shortage of mental health professionals is coinciding with a surge in people seeking treatment. Digital solutions like Xaia won't solve that problem entirely — they can't replace the expertise of experienced human practitioners. However, they could alleviate pressure on the healthcare system by offering personalized, effective support to individuals with less severe issues, thereby freeing up psychologists and psychiatrists to focus on critical cases.

As virtual counselors become more lifelike and empathetic, they'll become increasingly appealing to patients, who will also appreciate the on-demand flexibility of a humanoid therapist. Xaia's creators suggest other benefits, too: "Feedback from our research studies at Cedars-Sinai has shown that patients often feel more at ease speaking to Xaia. They appreciate that she offers non-judgmental support, is indifferent to their race or appearance, and never loses patience."

Considering the Apple Vision Pro is priced at USD 3,500, Xaia won't be democratizing access to mental health care anytime soon. Unless, of course, Apple decides to pursue healthcare as aggressively as it did education, bringing VR headsets to community health centers like it once brought Apple II computers to classrooms...