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New VR Treatment Can Help Overcome Acrophobia

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Everyone has at least once been afraid of heights at some point of their life. Actually, acrophobia is considered one of the most common fears experienced in the world. A team of European scientists looked into ways that will help people overcome their fear of heights without needing to go to a therapist, and all that with the help of a new VR treatment.

For their study, researchers chose 100 volunteers that would help them draw some conclusions. All of the participants in the study had a clinical diagnosis of acrophobia and hadn’t yet received any treatment for their fear of heights. In order to conduct their study, the researchers split the volunteers into two groups. Researchers used 51 volunteers for a control and they didn’t provide any treatment for them. On the other hand, the other group participated in a two-week long virtual reality (VR) therapy. There were 49 volunteers who agreed to participated in this program, while 44 completed it.

The results of the new VR treatment were published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry on Wednesday.

New VR treatment: How does it work?

During the treatment program, participants referred to a VR headset where they were appointed to a “virtual” coach who was treating them during six sessions that lasted roughly 30 minutes each. The coach asked them questions about how they came to fear heights and other questions concerning the phobia. Also, the coach virtually showed many virtual scenarios that participants would associate with their phobia. The scenarios ranged anywhere from tossing balls over a ledge to attempting to rescue a cat that got stuck up on a tree branch.

Whenever the session would end, a virtual coach would ask volunteers how they felt, while also encouraging them to participate in real-life heights situations between the sessions of the new VR treatment.

All the volunteers filled out surveys about how severe their fear of heights were when the study started and two weeks later when the program came to an end, as well as two weeks after the program ended. Out of the 49 volunteers in the treatment, 34 found that they experienced a fear of heights less than before the researchers asked them to take the study. Those who were put in the control group noted their fear to be at the same level as at the time when they started the study.

“Immersive virtual reality therapies that do not need a therapist have the potential to dramatically increase access to psychological interventions,” lead author Professor Daniel Freeman, University of Oxford, UK said in a press release. “We need a greater number of skilled therapists, not fewer, but to meet the large demand for mental health treatment we also require powerful technological solutions. As seen in our clinical trial, virtual reality treatments have the potential to be effective, and faster and more appealing for many patients than traditional face-to-face therapies.”

More benefits of VR

This is not the only attempt that has tried to prove that VR is beneficial for health and much more. There is another study suggesting that AI and VR combined can widely contribute to mental disorder treatments.

Also, another study conducted in 2015, by the University of Gotenburg in Sweden, found that VR enables students to study more and yield better results at school.

What do you think about the new VR treatment?

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