Health News

Virtual reality app trial shown to reduce common phobias

Results from a University of Otago, Christchurch trial suggest fresh hope for the estimated one-in-twelve people worldwide suffering from a fear of flying, needles, heights, spiders and dogs.

The trial, led by Associate Professor Cameron Lacey, from the Department of Psychological Medicine, studied phobia patients using a headset and a smartphone app treatment programme — a combination of Virtual Reality (VR) 360-degree video exposure therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Participants downloaded a fully self-guided smartphone app called “oVRcome,” developed by Christchurch tech entrepreneur Adam Hutchinson, aimed at treating patients with phobia and anxiety.

The app was paired with a headset to immerse participants in virtual environments to help treat their phobia.

The results from the trial, just published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, showed a 75 per cent reduction in phobia symptoms after six weeks of the treatment programme.

“The improvements they reported suggests there’s great potential for the use of VR and mobile phone apps as a means of self-guided treatment for people struggling with often-crippling phobias,” Associate Professor Lacey says.

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