By Dr. Khadeja Mousa
May 25, 2018
Exposure therapy is a type of behavioral therapy that is critical in the successful treatment of anxiety disorders and phobias. It involves exposing a person to a feared object or situation in order to overcome their anxiety. This can involve directly facing the feared object or situation, vividly imagining it or experiencing it through virtual reality technology. Exposure therapy itself, whether in vivo, imaginal, or virtual—is shown to be the most effective treatment choice because it’s built on the study of behavioral psychology and conditioning.
Virtual reality (VR) exposure therapy is evidence-based and offers many advantages. A meta-analysis of 13 studies by Mark B. Powers, PhD, and Paul M.G. Emmelkamp, PhD, found that VR exposure was more effective than imaginal exposure and at least as effective as in vivo exposure (directly facing a feared object in real life) in treating a range of anxiety disorders. In addition, VR offers the most efficient way of providing exposure therapy. For one, it can be more practical because it permits controlled, individualized, and repeatable exposures that might otherwise be too difficult to tackle in treatment (e.g., fear of heights, flying).
So what’s the experience like?
In VR, the client wears a headset, which creates a complete 3D, immersive virtual environment (VE). The client is then “inside” the VE and doesn’t see the outside environment. The client’s view changes as they look around. Appropriate sounds are programmed, making the experience more realistic. The therapist will have a computer monitor, where they can see what the client sees, and they can control various aspects of the VE. For example, in a fear of public speaking VE, the therapist can control the setting, audience size, and audience response depending on the person’s treatment needs.
If you’re interested in a virtual experience and want to learn more, please contact us at Wise Mind Center, Dubai.
- M.B. Powers and P.M. Emmelkamp, Virtual reality exposure therapy for anxiety disorders: A meta-analysis, J Anxiety Disorder 22(3) (2008), 561–569.