VR App Helps People Overcome Common Phobias, Study Shows

A virtual reality application test conducted by the University of Otago, New Zealand, showed promising results in reducing common phobias in participants. As part of the study, patients with phobias were studied using a headset and a smartphone application therapy program. It consists of a combination of virtual reality (VR) 360-degree exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). A six-week randomized controlled trial was conducted on 129 people from May 2021 to December 2021.

All participants were between the ages of 18 and 64 and had a fear of heights, flying, needles, spiders, or dogs. They were made to download a fully self-directed smartphone app called oVRcome as part of the casethe application provided in-depth information to patients by pairing with headsets.

“The oVRcome program involves what is called “exposure therapy”, a type of CBT that exposes participants to their specific behaviors in brief, to build their tolerance for the phobia in a clinically validated and controlled manner,” said Cameron Lacey, Associate Professor. in the Department of Psychiatry, who led the case.

The findings of this study, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, showed that phobia symptoms in patients were reduced by 75 percent after the program. According to Lacey, participants with all five types of phobias saw an improvement in the severity of their phobia over the course of the trial. The average size of the scale was found to have decreased from 28/40 to 7/40 in the patients.

“Some participants reported great progress in overcoming their fears after the trial period, one felt confident enough to now book a family holiday overseas, another had arranged for a COVID vaccine and another reported that they now felt confident without knowing there was a spider inside. the house but that they can get out themselves,” said Lacey.

The app consisted of standard CBT components including relaxation, cognitive training, cognitive strategies, a relapse prevention model, and VR exposure. Patients were allowed to choose their exposure levels through a large library of VR videos during the program.

The researchers believe that the trial was the first of its kind as the app and headsets used were expensive and many phobias were tested at the time. The app shines a light on the possibility of creating home-based and simple solutions to treat phobia.


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