Exposure exercises with virtual reality

Virtual Reality allows to practice the dealing with anxiety triggering situations in a protected environment. Through confrontation with anxiety in virtual reality, patients can experience in the course of therapy that the feared consequences do not occur and that they can deal with their fear. The effectiveness of anxiety exposure in virtual reality, also known as Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET), has already been demonstrated in a large number of studies (see publications). The safety of VRET has also been investigated in a study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders. The authors show that worsening of symptoms with a VRET is less frequent than with a placebo group and side effects are rare. The S3 guideline for the treatment of anxiety disorders › recommends exposure exercises in virtual reality for the treatment of specific phobias when in vivo exposure is not available or possible. A selection of treatment facilities that already use virtual reality and a selection of available virtual situations (exposure scenarios) are listed below

Exposure Scenarios

Fear Of Heights

People with fear of heights can practice dealing with height situations during an exposure in virtual reality. Despite negative feelings (e.g. fear, dizziness, insecurity, feelings of anxiety), people are able to move safely through the elevation situations (i.e. without losing their footing or falling). Through this experience people with fear of heights learn how to deal with height situations and develop a self-efficacy when searching for new height situations.

Fear Of Flying

When suffering from fear of flying, flights are completely avoided or only survived under great fear. Fear of flying therapy in virtual reality offers the possibility to practice dealing with negative feelings (e.g. palpitations, sweating) and thoughts (e.g. plane crash) before and during a flight. During the confrontation therapy it is learned that automatically occurring negative reactions to fear of flying are no sign that something will happen during a flight.

Animal Phobia – Birds

Animal phobia is a specific phobia that refers to living beings. Here the affected person suffers from the fear of the respective animal, although he has learned that the animal is harmless. Symptoms range from mild discomfort to panic. A typical symptom of animal phobia is fear of expectations and avoidance as a coping strategy. With virtual reality there is the possibility to recreate frightening situations and living beings and to gradually reduce fear by careful exposure.