London: If you are acrophobic or are scared of heights, then taking automated virtual reality (VR) based psychological therapy may help reduce the phobia, say researchers. According to the study, published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry, the participants took part in activities during the VR session that challenged their fears and helped them learn that they were safer than they thought.
“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 with clinically diagnosed fear of heights, who were not receiving psychological therapy, were divided into two groups and were given either the new automated VR treatment or usual care, which was typically no treatment.
Participants were given six VR treatment sessions roughly for 30 minutes each for two weeks where they wore a VR headset.
Throughout various activities, starting with simpler tasks, such as watching a safety barrier drop gradually, leading to harder tasks like walking on a platform over a large drop, the virtual coach offered encouragement, and afterwards explained what the participants had learned from their activities and asked whether they felt safer than before.
The virtual coach also encouraged participants to try real heights between sessions.
At the end of the treatment and at follow-up, participants from the VR group reported that their fears have reduced as opposed to the control group who rated their fear of heights as remaining similar.