Virtual Reality Treatments Can Alleviate Fear of Heights

Rescuing a cat from a tree one of the virtual reality tasks used to help overcome fear of heights

Playing the game, patients can heal themselves without therapy.

In Oxford tested a new method of psychotherapy in which the game in virtual reality helped in the treatment of fear of heights. Individuals were excluded if they were already receiving psychological treatment for their fear of heights. In testing the new method involved 100 adult citizens of the United Kingdom, whose average age is approximately 30 years. On average, participants had suffered a fear of heights for 30 years. 51 people were the control group.

This was the first VR phobia treatment not to require the presence of a real-life therapist, the team said. The results indicated that using VR technology has clinical effectiveness "at least as good as face-to-face therapy" and benefits of the treatment were found to remain when measured again at a four-week follow-up to the delivery of the therapy. The second group was asked to carry on without treatment so that a comparison could be made.

Writing in an accompanying commentary, Mark Hayward, PhD, DClinPsy, of the University of Sussex in Brighton, said the study represents the "latest step in an impressive program of research that has the potential to transform the provision of psychological treatments to patients with various mental health problems".

The authors identified some limitations, such as the lack of a direct comparison between now utilized psychological treatments for phobias (counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy or psychotherapy) and the automated VR therapy.

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The study involved 100 people tested in heights up to ten storeys through a VR headset, using a standard psychological measurement of fear. "I feel as if I'm making enormous progress, and feel very happy with what I've gained". It suggests that in future VR delivered therapy could even take place in home settings. "It definitely pushed the limits in terms of what I thought I would be able to achieve, and then got me to go past that". He says: " Psychological treatments for patients with psychosis face many challenges, because access to the treatments can be restricted and the treatment might generate only small effects.

This study was funded by Oxford VR, and the National Institute of Health Research Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre. The labels have been added to this press release as part of a project run by the Academy of Medical Sciences seeking to improve the communication of evidence.

[1] During the treatment, the virtual coach explains: "The reason we're afraid of heights is because we think something bad is going to happen".

[2] Quote direct from author and can not be found in the text of the Article.

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