Specific phobias are defined as an irrational and intense fear of certain elements or situations. Really feared stimuli do not pose a real danger to the person or, rather, fear is out of proportion to the degree of danger.
This can be very disabling for the person with the phobia, as it ends up avoiding situations that could live without worries, and also feels discomfort in a variety of contexts.
For example, if a person is afraid of flying or aerophobia you can lose the experience of traveling the world; or if the phobia is public speaking you may not be able to finish the career you want. It can also happen that, if you are afraid of dogs, avoid going through certain parts of the city or going outside with a major discomfort.
Not all people ask for help, but simply avoid the dreaded situations of everything. However, this is not a healthy way of living and it is important to know that phobias have a solution.
One of the methods that are currently being conducted to treat phobias is therapy through Virtual Reality such as Psious , which we will see later.
Let’s talk about numbers
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it is estimated that approximately 12.5% of the population of the United States has presented or presents any type of phobia throughout their life. This costs the country approximately $ 42 billion a year.
Phobias usually appear in childhood, about 7 years, and affects women more often than men. In addition, rates appear to increase slightly from the age of 18 to 60.
Surprisingly, only 32.4% of those affected have requested help from any health service, with 11.1% receiving adequate treatment to overcome the phobia.
How can virtual reality be used to treat phobias?
The only way to overcome a phobia effectively is to expose yourself, gradually approach the feared stimuli. Thus, to resolve claustrophobia the person must be exposed repeatedly to closed environments, such as an elevator.
You can do it gradually and increase the degree of difficulty (for example, spend more and more time locked in a basement) until the anxiety is naturally diminishing. The results of each person will depend on their phobia, their level of motivation and other environmental factors.
Sometimes it is difficult to regulate this in real situations, which is what is usually done with the technique known as “live” exposure. Its advantage is that the person is in the real environment. But the disadvantages are that unforeseen events can make the individual even more nervous by making him sensitive to fear and not want to continue therapy.
On the other hand, exposure is used in imagination, but it takes a lot of time to train the person to be able to concentrate on imagining the dreaded situation. In addition, it is difficult for many people to imagine vividly and more if they are very unpleasant stimuli.
Another difficulty is that the patient may be imagining something counterproductive or pretending to be imagining the situation we are proposing to him when in fact he is not doing it, but adopting a strategy to avoid them (think of something else).
However, Virtual Reality treatments offer an alternative that can help resolve these conflicts; providing several advantages that we will see below.
7 advantages of Virtual Reality to treat phobias
Virtual Reality Therapy, like Psious , is an innovative treatment that allows patients to experience experiences through a virtual environment that can be modified as the professional prefers, and that causes the feeling of being in the real world.
This method assumes a more secure, economic and intimate treatment to address the different nuances of the individual’s psychic plane.
Many people still do not know the advantages of Virtual Reality to treat various mental disorders and phobias, have misconceptions about the subject, or are simply reluctant to try something new.
So here we are going to examine the advantages that more and more people are benefiting from today.
1- It is proven that Virtual Reality is effective
There are many studies that highlight the effectiveness of Virtual Reality in the treatment of various phobias.
To begin with, a meta-analysis by Morina, Ljntema, Meyerbröker & Emmelkamp (2015) reviewed several different studies using exposure therapy with virtual reality. The authors concluded that there was improvement of the patients after the therapy. In addition, no significant differences were found between this type of exposure and exposure in real environments.
This means that Virtual Reality exposure produces the same effects as if phobic individuals were exposed to the feared stimulus in the real world.
There are studies focusing on each specific phobia, which have shown that Virtual Reality helps patients to overcome them.
For example, in a study by the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro 2010 three studies that explored systematically the effectiveness of dealing with driving phobia virtual reality, obtaining very positive results were examined: anxiety and avoidance decreased as treatment progressed.
Something similar happens with social phobia. In a study conducted in 2016, 21 patients with this phobia were examined before and after a treatment of 12 exposure sessions with virtual reality.
The authors concluded that social anxiety decreased and that this method is cheap and produces more adherence to treatment by the phobic.
In general, the treatment of specific phobias with virtual reality has been shown to be effective and is an interesting alternative to live exposure (Côté & Bouchard, 2008).
2- It is more likely that people want to overcome their phobia through Virtual Reality
Normally it causes a lot of rejection to the phobic ones to confront their fears live, for that reason the majority does not look for help unless they undergo a significant deterioration in its life.
However, in virtual reality, devices can be attractive and appealing to many people by increasing their motivation to expose themselves to fear. In addition, many people feel safer to do it this way, as they know that the situation is artificial and will not be “in danger”.
3- The virtual environment can be controlled
This advantage is fundamental and solves many of the problems explained above. The virtual environments and the stimuli that appear in them can be customized by the professionals, adapting them to the conditions of each patient.
In this way, you can choose the different degrees of intensity and when and how the feared stimuli or situations will appear.
For example, at the beginning we will agree that someone with fear of spiders see in the virtual environment a little and far from it for very little time. And little by little, the software will be configured so that the spider appears closer or several exits at the same time.
Thus, the positive aspect of this is that both the professional and the patient know that the virtual environment is being controlled, it is safe and there will be no unforeseen events that deteriorate the coping process.
The phobic individual can also be asked to interact with the virtual environment so that he does not fall into mental avoidance strategies that cause an incomplete exposure to the phobia.
4- It does not require training in imagination
As we have explained, there are many people who do not have as much ability to immerse themselves in their imagination as others. Therefore, exposure through imagination (trying to recreate in mind in detail the dreaded situation with the help of the psychologist) may not be effective.
The founders of Psious , Xavier Palomer and Dani Roig realized this and therefore opted to develop virtual reality as a therapeutic method.
It is not necessary to spend time in training the person to imagine vividly, but is quickly passed to the exhibition saving that process.
5 – What is learned is generalized to real situations
It has been scientifically proven that the anxiety that can be experienced in a virtual reality situation can be as similar as the one felt in a real environment.
Therefore, we can say that the virtual world has the same effect for our perception as the real one.
For this reason the advances found in the treatment of phobias through this technique persist over time and, evidently, in real environments.
6- Affordable prices
There is a belief that therapy with Virtual Reality is something that is exaggeratedly expensive and difficult for healthcare professionals and patients. However, many companies have already set out to devise methods of payment that are affordable, and increasingly provide amenities for customers to try the product.
For example, Psious has the advantage of having a first month of testing of its products, being able to return it if the client is not convinced. In addition, there are no permanencies and you can change subscription mode freely. These modalities can have different prices depending on the services you want, ranging from 25 euros per month to 1000 euros per year.
7- It implies the perfect balance
That is, Virtual Reality has the ability to provoke an anxiety to the person who is similar to the one you feel in real life. At the same time, knowing this is something unreal, the exhibition is not so unpleasant or gives an option to sensitization.
This is the balance that makes this form of treatment more comfortable to use, effective, with less costs and more benefits for all.