Published: Sat, July 14, 2018
Medical | By Vicki Mclaughlin

Virtual ride helps ease heights fear

Virtual ride helps ease heights fear

Virtual reality actually treats.

VR therapy could well offer faster and more attractive treatment options, with equal effectiveness, compared to conventional personal therapy.

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.

The research was undertaken using participants over 18 years old who had a self-reported fear of heights and responded to a recruitment advert.

The researchers found that the VR treatment reduced fear of heights at the end of treatment compared with the control groups (mean change score on the Heights Interpretation Questionnaire: -24.5 versus -1.2; adjusted difference, -24.0). Half were given VR treatment and the other half not, to allow for comparison. It suggests that in future VR delivered therapy could even take place in home settings. "Our view is that automated immersive VR has the potential to increase access to the best psychological interventions radically".

The experiment involved splitting 100 acrophobes into two groups.

According to Freeman, three-quarters of people in the VR group found their fear had at least halved.

Each of the volunteers had an obsessive fear of heights.

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Participants were given six VR treatment sessions roughly for 30 minutes each for two weeks where they wore a VR headset.

The program included a novel software application called "Now I Can Do Heights", created to be used with or without a supporting therapist.

Using voice recognition technology, Nic can interact with patients and gauge their fear levels by asking how they feel on a scale of 1 to 10.

A new method of psychotherapy was tested in Oxford using the game with immersion in virtual reality. "Our study is an important first step, and we are carrying out clinical testing to learn whether automation of psychological treatment using virtual reality works for other mental health disorders".

He said a unique aspect of the treatment was that it is fully automated, thus negating the need for guidance from a "real-life" healthcare professional.

One possible limitation, however, he said, was that the cohort was quite different from individuals with severe mental illness typically seen in secondary-care mental health services within the U.K.'s National Health System - for example, most of the participants in the study were employed, and because of this, the technology might actually be more hard to implement in practice compared with what was seen in the trial.

The development comes months after the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR), UK announced an investment of £4 million in VR therapy for mental health problems - a project led by Freeman.

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