Virtual reality (VR) therapies may reduce phobias as a new trial suggests fresh hope for the estimated one in 12 people worldwide suffering from a fear of flying, needles, heights, spiders, and dogs.
The results from the trial, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, showed a 75 percent reduction in phobia symptoms after six weeks of the treatment program.
"The improvements they reported suggest there's great potential for the use of VR and mobile phone apps as a means of self-guided treatment for people struggling with often-crippling phobias," said researcher Cameron Lacey, Associate Professor at the University of Otago.
For the study, the team included a total of 129 people, who took part in the six-week randomized, controlled trial, between May 2021 and December 2021, with a 12-week follow-up.
Participants needed to be aged between 18-64 years, and have a fear of flying, heights, needles, spiders, and dogs.
Participants downloaded a fully self-guided smartphone app aimed at treating patients with phobia and anxiety. They were emailed weekly questionnaires to record their progress. Those experiencing adverse events could request contact from a clinical psychologist at any stage.
The trial studied phobia patients using a headset and a smartphone app treatment program -- a combination of Virtual Reality (VR) 360-degree video exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
The app program consisted of standard CBT components including psychoeducation, relaxation, mindfulness, cognitive techniques, exposure through VR, and a relapse prevention model.
Participants were able to select their exposure levels to their particular phobia from a large library of VR videos. The researchers said this trial was novel, due to the cost-effective availability of the app and headsets and the fact that multiple phobias were tested at once. (AA/IANS)