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Treating Anxiety & Phobia with Virtual Reality Simulation

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According to the BBC, clinical psychologist Dr. Daniel Freeman is developing a VR (virtual reality) program aimed at helping people overcome their fears and anxiety.

Someone who has a fear of heights could be standing at the top of a high rise building using this simulated reality. "People know it's not real so they try things they've not done before or for a long time, but the mind and body do behave as if it's in the real world," Dr. Freeman explains. Over time, the mind creates a new, less fearful association with heights.

That’s only part of how VR programs are beginning to be studied when it comes to your mental health.

Another program being tested simulates a psychologist office. A participant sits across from a simulated doctor and explains his or her struggles with anxiety. Then, the participant is suddenly in the therapist’s chair, listening to him or herself recount these struggles. The participant then gives advice to him or herself on what to do. Again, the participant switches to the patient role to hear his or her own advice.

This method of “body swapping” could have a powerful effect, but not everyone is convinced. Clinical psychologist, Dr. Nihara Krause, says, “It assumes that the person, first of all, has the ability to put themselves in someone else's position, which isn't always very easy."

"The second assumption is that people have the verbal ability to be able to express something objectively, which again for some people isn't very easy. So I would have concerns about somebody doing it on their own."

100 people will be trialed on the phobia simulator and Dr. Freeman hopes that he can use in clinical settings or in patients home without the presence of a therapist.

Computer scientist Mel Slater, who is helping develop the program, says, “"We know there is a crisis in mental health and we know people have to wait a long time for appointments for things that can be fairly mild but over time become much, much, worse. And maybe this could be a stopgap before they see a real therapist."

For more information on anxiety, watch the MedCircle original series Understanding the Anxious Self with Dr. Ramani.

Source: The BBC


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