A virtual coffee shop or a bus ride can help people overcome their fear of everyday situations. “This could be an effective treatment.”
Order a cup of coffee, get on a full bus, or even just wander the streets. What seems obvious to most people, not least to those who suffer from agoraphobia or agoraphobia. Fear of everyday situations can mean that patients rarely leave their homes. Virtual reality therapy could help, according to new British research.
Virtual reality therapy begins with a visit to a virtual trainer who guides the patient and encourages them to overcome their fears. Patients can ride the bus, shop, go to a coffee shop, or see a doctor. And that with varying degrees of difficulty, from just communicating between people, to addressing someone.
The idea is that the virtual experience will help patients build confidence and overcome their fears, so they can do things in real life that they previously failed to do.
“Part of the brain knows that everything is OK because it’s not real, and that helps people persevere,” study researcher Daniel Freeman (University of Oxford) told the British newspaper. Watchman† “And if you can do that in the virtual world, you will succeed in the real world.”
Scientists had 174 people afraid to leave the house undergo virtual reality therapy in addition to their regular therapy. A control group of 172 patients received only the standard treatment.
After six weeks, the subjects who actually trained were less anxious and less inclined to avoid certain situations than the control group. But after six months, the researchers no longer found any difference between the two groups. They saw an effect only in patients who experienced the most agoraphobia. They still dared to do more, and reported lower anxiety and higher quality of life. So the researchers concluded that the people who have the greatest fears are the ones who mainly benefit from treatment.
“This is a fascinating study that confirms that exposure to what you fear, also hypothetically, is an effective treatment,” says psychologist Dirk Hermanns (KU Leuven). According to Hermanns, an added value is that patients can use virtual reality
Able to continue treatment independently. This makes it easy to reach large groups of people. It’s not a luxury if you know that one in five suffers from some type of anxiety disorder.”