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Virtual reality therapy can help cure phobias

Confronting fears in the virtual world could help cure phobias in real life, a new research suggests.

The research, published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry, saw nearly three out of four patients with a serious phobia of heights overcome their phobia with the help of virtual reality.

“Immersive VR therapies that do not need a therapist have the potential to dramatically increase access to psychological interventions,” said lead author Daniel Freeman from Britain’s University of Oxford. “As seen in our clinical trial, VR treatments have the potential to be effective, faster, and more appealing for many patients than traditional face-to-face therapies.

“With our unique automation of therapy using VR, there is the opportunity to provide really high quality treatment to many more people at an affordable cost,” Freeman added.

For the study, 100 people who were clinically diagnosed with fear of heights were divided into two groups and were given either the new automated VR treatment or usual care. Participants were given six VR treatment sessions that lasted for 30 minutes each. The sessions lasted for two weeks and through various activities, which included them walking on a platform over a large drop, their comfort level was analysed.

At the end of the treatment, participants from the VR group reported that their fears have reduced.

“What I’m noticing is that in day-to-day life I’m much less averse to edges, and steps, and heights,” a participant was quoted as saying by Mail Online. “I feel I’m making enormous progress.”