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Gradual Exposure: Building Resilience and Overcoming Phobias and Anxiety Through Virtual Reality

Updated: Sep 21, 2023

Are you struggling with phobias and anxiety? Have traditional treatment approaches failed to deliver the desired results? It's time to try virtual reality exposure therapy and coping strategies to build resilience and overcome your fears.


In this blog post, we will explore what phobias and anxiety are, their causes and symptoms, traditional treatment approaches, and their limitations. We will then dive into virtual reality exposure therapy and why, in some cases, it's more efficient than traditional therapy.


Understanding phobias and anxiety


Are you someone who experiences fear or nervousness when you encounter certain situations or objects? If yes, then you are not alone. Phobias and anxiety are more common than you may think and can affect people of all ages.


What are phobias and anxiety, you ask? Phobias are an extreme and irrational fear of a situation or object. Common phobias include fear of heights, spiders, enclosed spaces, and many more. Anxiety, on the other hand, is a general feeling of unease or nervousness that can range from mild to severe. The causes of phobias and anxiety can vary. While some phobias may develop in childhood due to a traumatic event or experiences, anxiety can be a result of stress or a chemical imbalance in the brain.


Symptoms of phobias and anxiety can vary depending on the condition's severity. Generally, phobias can cause panic attacks, sweating, and trembling, while anxiety can cause increased heart rate, sweating, and tremors, among other symptoms (NIMH, 2019)





Traditional treatment approaches for phobias and anxiety and their limitations


Traditional treatment approaches for phobias and anxiety encompass mindfulness techniques and medication as two primary methods. Mindfulness involves cultivating awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations, often through meditation or relaxation exercises. By focusing on the present moment without judgment, individuals can learn to observe and manage their anxiety triggers, helping them gain a sense of control. However, its limitations include the need for regular practice and the potential difficulty in achieving immediate relief during acute anxiety episodes.


On the other hand, medication, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs, can provide rapid symptom relief by altering neurotransmitter levels in the brain. These medications can be especially effective for severe anxiety cases, but they come with drawbacks like potential side effects, the risk of dependency, and the absence of long-term resolution without therapy. Additionally, they may not address the root causes of anxiety and phobias.


Ultimately, the choice between mindfulness and medication should be tailored to the individual's needs, considering the severity of their condition and personal preferences.


Virtual reality exposure therapy


A more recent approach, virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET), combines exposure therapy with virtual reality technology to create a realistic simulation of the feared stimuli. oVRcome works like this, putting its users in a progressive framework of dealing with their phobias.


Therefore, VRET works by immersing patients in a computer-generated environment through the use of a head-mounted display, and then gradually exposing them to the feared stimulus. For example, a patient with a fear of flying might first be exposed to a virtual airport, then a virtual airplane, and finally, to a simulated take-off and landing. Therapists can customize the scenario to the specific needs of the patient, and the experience can be repeated as often as necessary.


The advantages of VRET over traditional approaches are clear. Patients can be exposed to situations that would be difficult to replicate in real life, and the cost is significantly lower, as no real-life stimuli or equipment are required. Moreover, VRET can be less uncomfortable for patients as they are aware that the stimuli are not real.


You can experience the benefits of VRET by visiting our website, where we offer guided sessions tailored to your specific needs.




References:


  • National Institute of Mental Health. (2019). Specific Phobia: Traditional methods.

  • American Psychological Association. (2017). Exposure Therapy for Phobias

  • Mayo Clinic. (2019). Specific phobias.

  • American Psychologist. (2010). Evidence-Based Treatment of Phobias



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