Virtual Reality is considered the as next level of new consumer technology, which can be applied to more and more business. Besides entertainment and training, it can also be a medical tool to help people to overcome mental health problems such as fear, social anxiety, depression and phobias.
In the modern society, we have a more and more diverse people who have various physiological problems, which need mental therapies to cue or solve. Before the Virtual Reality comes in, the patients can only overcome the fear or phobias by 2 extreme solutions, one is a narratively guided imagination or meditation, which are very low efficient and bad user experience, the other is put themselves into a real environment which is not easy to simulate or maybe dangerous. So, when VR era emerges, as a ground-breaking tool, the VR therapy immediately became the most effective way to tackle the mental health problems with visible effect and zero danger.
VR can create a digital world which is identical with the real world, very much alike the sensory illusions that produced in the movie of Matrix or Ready Player One. VR is an immersive experience which can send artificial signals to our brain with visual and audio inputs. The virtual world seems to be realistic to the patients, but they know they are totally safe from anything appears in the virtual world, so they have less fear or phobias.
Phobias are usually treated by exposure therapy. This will devote the patient into a similar environment or creatures that the patient has a problem with. They can get familiar with virtual version of the scene or object that they are scared of, then they get used to it, so when they meet the same situation in the real world, they are less stressed, and eventually overcome the fear or phobias For instance, a virtual stage can be used to treat people with Glossophobia(an extreme fear of public speaking to a group of people). When the patient speaker more and more in the virtual stage, they would more like to find himself able to speak in front of a group of real people. Below is a list of what VR therapy can be applied to:
- Acrophobia – the fear of height
- Agoraphobia – the fear of open spaces and situations where escape is not possible
- Arachnophobia – an intense fear of spiders
- Aviophobia – an extreme fear of flying
- Claustrophobia – an intense fear of being trapped in small spaces
- Cynophobia – the fear of dog
- Entomophobia – the fear of insects
- Glossophobia – the fear of public speaking
- Musophobia – the fear of mice or rats
- Omithophobia – the fear of birds
- Trypanophobia – the fear of needles
In addition, phobia severity scores changed from moderate-severe (28/40) to minimal (7/40) risk after a six-week period. The core principle behind the treatment is to have participants face their fears in a diluted form. Then slowly move up a few levels to build up their tolerance in a clinically acceptable manner. One subject who were afraid of spiders eventually felt confident enough to remove spiders from home by themselves, while another subject who was afraid of flying showed a willingness to book an overseas vacation.
Participants were allowed to choose how much exposure they could accept for the VR video. Overall, the novel VR-driven treatment can reduce phobia symptoms by about 75 percent after six weeks of exposure therapy, which is remarkable. The study, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, concluded that VR therapy proved to be “effective in reducing the severity of symptoms of specific phobias”.
Another notable benefit is that VR-powered therapy is cost-effective, readily available through an app, and does not present any psychosocial barriers. Therefore, if you are suffering the phobias, you can ask for the doctor to try the VR treatment.