How does a virtual therapy affect fear of heights?
Some people only develop fear of heights at some point in their lives, others are already afraid of heights in childhood. Those affected panic as soon as they are at a high point, regardless of whether they are secured or not. Researchers have now found that virtual treatment can be used to treat vertigo.
In their current research, scientists from the internationally recognized University of Oxford found that virtual therapy can help people with vertigo to overcome their phobia. The experts published the results of their study in the English-language journal "The Lancet Psychiatry".
Many participants in the study had been afraid of heights for over 30 years
A new Virtual Reality (VR) program for acrophobia (fear of heights) has now been tested on volunteers. During the examination, there was a treatment group and another control group, the doctors explain. Most of the participants had been afraid of heights for more than 30 years. The 44 subjects in the treatment group received a total of five or six 30-minute sessions of VR treatment over two weeks.
70 percent of the subjects were cured of their fear of heights
The results of the study were quite significant, say the experts. Approximately 70 percent of the VR group no longer felt afraid of heights after treatment, while all people in the control group who had not received treatment continued to suffer from high altitude fears.
How did the simulation work?
The VR simulator puts people in a safe situation where they can learn to deal with their fear. Participants wear a so-called VR headset and are asked to move through a 10-story building and do terrifying tasks there, such as looking over a high lead, the scientists explain. One of the most difficult tasks was going to a platform to rescue a cat from a tree.
Subjects should deal with their fear
The study should include tasks that are fun and, above all, make the participants have to deal with their fear, explains study author Professor Daniel Freeman from the University of Oxford. The exercises should teach the subject to feel safe even at higher altitudes.
More therapists and technological solutions are needed
The therapy is also accompanied by a virtual coach, who calms the user and shows the way. Some patients may prefer such treatment to direct treatment by a doctor, the experts speculate. This could save the healthcare system a lot of costs in the future. We need a larger number of qualified therapists, not fewer, the researchers explain. In order to meet the great demand for psychological treatments, powerful technological solutions are also needed, says Professor Freeman.
One in five people will eventually suffer from vertigo
A pilot project of VR therapy is now being started together with some NHS clinics. Hopefully, this form of treatment will be a useful new way of helping people overcome their fears, Professor Freeman adds. Fear of heights is probably the most common phobia. Around one in five people will suffer from vertigo at some point in their lives. (as)