Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy

Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET) For Fears & Phobias

Virtual reality exposure therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment for a range of fears, ranging from public speaking, to spiders, to crowded spaces.

Virtual reality exposure treatment (VRET) is a technology-based form of exposure therapy. Exposure therapy aims to help you reduce the severity of your stress reactions to circumstances, ideas, or memories that cause worry or fear. Using a VR headset, you are exposed to your triggers in a controlled and safe environment.

Specific phobias are the most frequent anxiety disorders worldwide and at times they can be crippling. The most effective treatment for fears and phobias is graded exposure therapy, which involves a client facing their fears one step at a time until they gradually lessen. Virtual exposure is such a helpful treatment approach as it provides a steppingstone to help people grow in confidence before confronting their fears in real life.

Does Exposure Therapy Work?

In a comprehensive analysis published two years ago, nine studies compared the efficacy of virtual reality exposure therapy to real-life exposure.

It was discovered that both methods were effective in treating most phobias and that there was no significant difference between them.

What can virtual Exposure Therapy help with?

Virtual reality (VR) is increasingly being used for the treatment of a variety of conditions, ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to dementia and has been shown to be effective for a range of fears including:

  • Fear of flying
  • Fear of heights
  • Fear of spiders
  • Fear of dogs
  • Fear of enclosed spaces
  • Fear of insects
  • Fear of public speaking
  • Fear of birds
  • Fear of mice and rats
  • Fear of needs
  • Social anxiety

What happens in an Exposure Therapy session?

During your session, your psychologist will choose a virtual reality therapy programme tailored to your individual mental health issue.

You and your therapist will then work together to determine a variety of anxiety-inducing circumstances during virtual reality exposure therapy. For example, a patient with a severe fear of flying would be asked to rank several conditions on a scale of “most terrifying” to “least frightening,” such as experiencing turbulence or during take-off or landing.

Exposure therapy

You will next be gradually exposed to increasingly intense sensations while wearing the VR headgear. The virtual reality experience will begin with a simple exposure to your phobia, such as a short flight with a quiet, gentle route. As your response improves, the intensity of these VR experiences will steadily grow. Clients will eventually be able to respond calmly to the most extreme virtual reality situations related to their phobia, such as experiencing severe turbulence.

Your therapist will be there throughout the process, viewing and controlling what you see via a linked device. The therapist will monitor your reaction as you progress through the virtual reality training and offer techniques for rectifying any negative reactions.

Please note: You will still need the guidance and supervision of a registered psychologist to support you through exposure therapy with the VR headset – this is not a D.I.Y treatment.

Finding a Virtual Exposure Therapist

As VRET is an expensive and not widely used technology, not all psychologists currently provide this service. However, at Positive Mind Works, we are pleased to offer virtual exposure therapy to our clients, currently at no extra cost. The headset will be set to you via mail for use during sessions. If you are interested to learn more, please contact our reception on 1800 327 477 (AU) or 0800 327 477 (NZ).