Can VR Help People Conquer Their Fears?

Can VR Help People Conquer Their Fears?

Most of us have a fear of something, whether it’s heights, spiders, enclosed spaces or flying, to name just a few of the most common phobias.

Facing your fears has long been touted as one of the best ways to overcome them, but for someone who is truly terrified of a particular thing or scenario, this can be too difficult to do.

However, it seems that there’s a growing market for virtual reality (VR) treatments to help people confront their fears in a safe environment. PC News recently reported on the rising number of apps that are coming onto the market to help people face phobias.

The news provider shared details of one particular app that’s being developed by Oxford VR, with the University of Oxford supporting it.

This app is designed to help people with a fear of heights and it can be heavily tailored to suit the individual, which means it can be very effective, or so the developers claim.

Within this VR world, everything is heavily stylised rather than looking too realistic. According to head of VR development at Oxford VR Sam Gage, this works in the app’s favour though. “People are a lot more willing to engage going next to a virtual ledge than a real one,” he explained.

In the Oxford VR app, people pick apples from a tree growing in the middle of a shopping centre. When they look down to put the apples in a basket by their feet, they see that they’re on a small platform hovering in the air.

The height of the platform can be varied depending on the person, and can start from as little as a few inches off the ground to help people get comfortable before gradually getting higher.

This particular treatment is only currently available in one UK clinic, although the company is looking to further expand its network.

Mr Gage explained that creating apps to help people overcome different fears is challenging, especially when those fears might involve interacting with other people – such as anyone who suffers from social anxiety and therefore avoids going out.

The news provider pointed out that there are other apps available for people to try at home, but that many of these don’t take the same, considered approach as that being developed by Oxford VR.

The difference in this case is that the experience has been designed using cognitive behavioural techniques to get “patients to consider how their thoughts are related to their physical actions”.

According to the NHS, two of the most common complex phobias that people experience are agoraphobia and social phobia. These are particularly difficult to treat because they tend to develop in adulthood and “are often associated with a deep-rooted fear or anxiety about a particular situation or circumstance”, the health service explains.

It’s clear that VR when done correctly could be a useful tool in treating people with all manner of phobias – and this is only likely to increase as the technology being utilised improves.

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