Virtual Reality Software To Cure Phobias

Virtual Reality Software To Cure Phobias
The research project called Virtual Reality and Phobias started in 1999. It’s a project in which different universities collaborate.

Delft University of Technology is working together with the University of Amsterdam, faculty of psychology.

The major topics of this research project are discussed below. The Technical University of Delft is responsible for the topics on Human Computer Interaction and the technical aspects of VR.

The University of Amsterdam is concerned with virtual reality exposure therapy and the psychological aspects of virtual reality. Phobias are the most common form of anxiety disorders, which themselves are the most common psychiatric disorders. In 1998 a study was done in the Netherlands on the prevalence of psychiatric disorders in the general population (Bijl, Ravelli & van Zessen).

This study shows that the lifetime-prevalences of agoraphobia, social phobia and specific phobias are respectively 3.4, 7.8 and 10.4 %. This means that 3.4 % of the general population is or has been suffering from agoraphobia during his life. 7.8 % and 10.4 % of the population is or has been suffering from respectively a social phobia or a specific phobia during his life.

Phobias can often be treated effectively by using gradual exposure therapy. During gradual exposure therapy patients are subjected to anxiety-provoking stimuli in a gradual order, from the least difficult stimulus to the most difficult one.

While patients are subjected to those anxious situations, they can’t avoid the stimuli and they are staying in that situation to allow the anxiety to attenuate.

Traditionally those stimuli are looked for in actual physical situations (in vivo) or by having the patient imagine the stimulus (in vitro).

Virtual Reality Software To Cure Phobias
Virtual Reality (VR) allows a third option of exposure therapy in a virtual setting that is safer, less embarrassing, and less costly than reproducing the real world situations.

Besides situations can be created that are difficult to find in real life and it’s more realistic than imagining the danger.

Already some experiments have proven VR to be a useful tool in treating specific phobias such as fear of heights, fear of spiders, fear of flying and claustrophobia, as well as agoraphobia.

Virtual Reality Software To Cure Phobias Research
However most research that is done on VR exposure consists of single case studies and controlled group studies are necessary to support the conclusions of case studies. Research in this area is still in its infancy, but is progressing rapidly. To take Virtual Reality (graded) Exposure (VRE) from the experimental lab and into the daily practice of psychologists more research is needed.

Delft University of Technology and the University of Amsterdam have taken up this challenge.

Within four years we have built a fully functional system optimal for the given situation.

Furthermore we have substantial data to support the effectiveness of Virtual reality software to cure phobias(fear of heights, claustrophobia, fear of flying).

The domain is being approached from these two angles:

  • Psychology
  • Human Computer Interaction

Both angles are being represented by a group in the project team.

In 1999 we completed a pilot study with low budget virtual reality software to cure phobias.

The aim of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of low-budget Virtual reality software to cure phobias exposure versus exposure in vivo in a within group design in ten individuals suffering from acrophobia (phobia of heights) (Emmelkamp, Bruynzeel, Drost & van der Mast).

Furthermore we completed another study in which we evaluated the effectiveness of low-budget virtual reality exposure versus exposure in vivo.

According to this study there were no differences between the effectiveness of gradual exposure in vivo and Virtual reality software to cure phobias exposure. Both conditions improved significantly and didn’t differ in their degree of improvement.

The decline in fear of heights was sustained at six months follow-up. It seems that VRE has the same effectiveness as exposure in vivo, even when measured on a behavioral avoidance test.

We got very interesting results on usability of the therapist user interface, on navigation techniques in virtual reality, on comparison of virtual reality modalities (HMD verses CAVE), and more. We are collaborating with many international partners, especially with the Universidad Politecnica de Valencia.

Our system is being used for fear of heights and claustrophobia in the clinics of PsyQ in the Hague since spring 2005

Currently (2005), we're investigating (in the lab) the use of VR for the treatment of agoraphobia and fear of flying. In the future we hope to redesign our system with modules for agent-support of the therapist and for tele-care. We are collaboarting with clinicians from PsyQ in the Hague and from VALK in Leiden.
©Charles v.d. Mast

TU Delt Virtual reality software to cure phobias article

Phobia A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Phobia Definitions Disclaimer

Morpheus Institute.
All rights reserved