VR Phobia Treatment vs Traditional Exposure Therapy

January 17, 2018
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VR Phobia

Thanks to a growing popularity in virtual reality and the release of VR compatible gaming consoles and the best VR headsets, VR gaming is now more affordable than ever before, but virtual reality is not only used to improve a gaming experience. In fact, VR phobia treatment is used to treat patients who suffer from a wide range of phobias including social anxiety, a fear of spiders, and a fear of flying.

How Virtual Therapy Treatments Work

Just like traditional exposure therapy, VR therapy is designed to gradually expose a patient to what they fear the most. But instead of being face to face with their fears, patients will sit in their psychologist’s office and wear a headset that transports them to a new environment. During this type of treatment, the patient will see a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree video of their surroundings, which will include what she or he fears the most.

A patient with a fear of flying will find themselves on an airplane, sitting in a standard airplane seat. They’ll hear the sound of the engines, feel the rocky bumpy motion that comes with turbulence, and will even see other passengers patiently sitting in their own seats. The psychologist will monitor their patient throughout the duration of the treatment, providing them with coping exercises and techniques they can use once they notice a spike in fear or anxiety. The intensity of the simulation is increased with each treatment. The first treatment may only be of the patient sitting alone on the plane. During the next session, engine sounds may be introduced, followed by the sensation of taking off or landing. It’s the psychologist’s job to gauge the patient’s reactions and determine their tolerance level before moving on to the next big step.

But a fear of flying isn’t the only type of phobia that can be treated using virtual reality and the possibilities really are endless. Virtual reality treatments can range from a fear of needles to animal or medical phobias, or a fear of common items found around the home.

Phobias are not in the same classification as regular fears. Phobias tend to trigger significant changes in behavior such as avoiding certain situations or places where the cause of the phobia is likely to be present.

Why VR Therapy is So Successful

VR Therapy

In recent years, virtual reality has become the go-to solution for phobia treatment, beating out traditional therapy and hypnosis. There has also been a high success rate with virtual reality physical therapy treatment.  Studies have shown that on average, virtual reality treatment for phobias has over a ninety percent success rate. In terms of treatment frequency, this tends to vary from patient to patient and often depends on the severity of the phobia. While one patient may be cured in as little as twelve sessions, others may require ongoing treatment for a year or more.

For many people, these fears can be very debilitating, affecting their day to day life and preventing them from participating in activities they once enjoyed. In severe cases, when left untreated, a phobia can cause a person to move or may even cost them their job. VR therapy has finally made its way into the mental health world, providing effective treatments that have a higher success rate than other types of therapy. Many psychologists have also noted that this type of treatment provides faster results compared to traditional therapy.

Exposure Therapy in a Simulated Environment

A huge benefit of virtual reality therapy is the fact that it allows patients to face their fears in a simulated environment. However, these simulated environments look very real to the phobia sufferer. So, what’s the big difference between basic exposure therapy and VR therapy? Wearing a headset that provides the wearer with a three hundred and sixty-degree view of their environment, the patient who suffers from a fear of spiders can pause the simulation or simply remove the headset if they begin to feel anxious. Additionally, the psychologist will also be monitoring the situation and can also pause the simulation. With exposure therapy, the patient will literally be face to face with their phobia, which is one of the major reasons that type of therapy takes much longer to show progress compared to VR therapy. With virtual reality therapy, patients are simply more willing to give it a try because they know that the environment is simulated and that they’re totally safe. But once a session begins, many patients will quickly forget that it’s a simulation because their environment looks and feels so real. As you can see, VR therapy offers many benefits to the phobia sufferer and can be a safer, gentler approach to phobia treatment in general.

Practice Makes Perfect

For some, virtual reality therapy can be slow going. During treatment the patient can put to use the relaxation techniques they have learned and apply these techniques during a VR session. While with basic immersion therapy, it’s common for patients to frequently cancel their appointments in order to avoid facing their phobia. With VR treatment patients are able to practice coping techniques with their doctor during treatment and gain confidence in their ability to overcome their fears. In fact, many mental health professionals claim they are now able to cure and effectively treat certain phobias they were previously unable to treat using exposure therapy. This is mainly because certain phobias, such as the fear of flying or a fear of heights were difficult for psychologists to recreate. But the high cost of virtual reality therapy is what is currently standing in the way of this type of important treatment being used in every facility and private practice across the country. Fortunately, researchers and manufacturers are working together to make virtual reality equipment for affordable for mental health professionals and consumers alike. This type of therapy is simply invaluable to patients who have struggled with debilitating phobias throughout the years. The fact that this technology is now available can give these patients hope that there is an effective treatment out there and one that can provide the type of results they’re looking for in a fraction of the time it takes with traditional exposure therapy.

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