Virtual reality therapy helps overcome acrophobia

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Utilising the way people think is one of the most astonishing ways in which technology can function. From blockchain technology tackling extremist views to children learning about anti-discrimination via an online soccer game, its use is seemingly endless.

Researchers from University of Oxford spinout Oxford VR have optimised virtual reality to help those with a fear of heights overcome their phobia. The team has developed a VR programme in which psychological therapy is delivered by a computer-generated virtual coach. Users receive personalised treatment, therefore being able to interact with the virtual coach using voice recognition technology. A random selection of one hundred people with a fear of heights received either the VR therapy or no treatment. Participants had, on average, lived with a fear of heights for 30 years. Those who received the therapy spent an average of two hours in VR over five treatment sessions. All participants in the VR group showed a reduction in fear of heights, with the average reduction being 68 percent. Furthermore, half of the participants in the VR group had a reduction in fear of heights by over three quarters.

The study, published in The Lancet, concludes that psychological therapy delivered automatically by a VR coach can produce large clinical benefits. It also predicted the future potential for a variety of other mental health disorders.

Takeaway: Evidence-based VR treatments have the potential to greatly increase treatment provision for other mental health disorders too, such as anxiety. Although VR has been a part of phobia treatment in the past, it always required a therapist to guide the user through treatment – until now. Fear of heights is a significant problem for one in five people at some point in their live. Most also never receive treatment. Advances in technology are helping people change the way they think and eradicate debilitating thoughts. How could you use VR to make an impact?


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Spotted by Peter Gibson, written by Springwise.
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