Psychologists have successfully treated phobias for decades. Starting with education about what anxiety is, they then offer calming tools in preparation for exposure therapy. Exposure therapy is a form of therapy where the client and therapist focus on a specific fear and attempts to relax and gain control of the situation. Initially, psychologists recommend imagining the thing their client is most afraid of. Then, over time, they work toward exposures of the event in real life. This can be difficult in situations where the real-life object can’t be found (like airplanes, spiders, and injection needles). Technology now has a solution for us. It’s called Virtual Reality Exposure.
Imagine being terrified of riding in an elevator. You sit in your therapist’s office with a headset and you are virtually walking into and riding an elevator. After several sessions with your therapist and the headset, you can walk into an elevator and ride it up several stories. Virtual reality is giving people the opportunity to overcome their phobias in the comfort and safety of their therapist’s office.
What is virtual reality?
Virtual reality projects an environment that feels real, but is not. Users wear a headset that resembles large goggles that have screens instead of lenses. Once the headset is on, users can only see what is being shown on the screens. They can no longer see anything around them. There are sensors in the headset that can tell when users move their heads. The screen view moves along with users heads to make it feel real.
Top 10 Phobias
Phobias are extreme reactions to certain situations. Below are the 10 most common phobias among people
Arachnophobia: Fear of spiders
Ophidiophobia: Fear of snakes
Acrophobia: Fear of heights
Aerophobia: Fear of flying
Cynophobia: Fear of dogs
Astraphobia: Fear of thunder and lightening
Trypanophobia: Fear of injections
Social Phobia: Fear of social situations
Agoraphobia: Fear of being alone in a situation or place where escape is difficult
Mysophobia: Fear of germs and dirt
How does virtual reality treat phobias?
Virtual reality (VR) exposure therapy allows the client to face the object of their phobia through the headset while being in the safety of their therapist’s office. The therapist then coaches the client to manage anxiety during virtual reality exposure.
Benefits of VR Exposure Therapy
Gradual Exposure is More Tolerable
VR exposure is less triggering than real-life exposure. It’s an awesome second step, after imaginal exposure, to get them where they need to be before direct exposures.
Saves Time and Money
Real-life exposure therapy typically requires time and money to travel to different locations to treat the phobia. With virtual reality exposure therapy, travel is not needed since the therapy takes place in the therapist’s office – convenient, inexpensive, quick, and effective.
Any emotion elicited from the exposures will not occur in front of anyone besides their therapist.
Therapist Has More Control
The therapist can stop the simulation if necessary for the client. The therapist could also repeat the same simulation multiple times if the client needs it.
The simulation can end whenever the client needs to. For example, the client can easily get off the airplane in VR but in real life, the client would have to stay on the airplane once it has started taking off.
Thank you to CSUCI intern Makenzie Stancliff for co-authoring this article. For more information on anxiety, check out the article How Internet Searches can Lead to Illness Anxiety Disorder on the GetKidsInternetSafe website.
I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.
Onward to more awesome parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty
 exposure therapy. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/exposure therapy
 Emspak, J. (2016, March 22). What Is Virtual Reality? Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/54116-virtual-reality.html
 Cherry, K. (2020, January 20). How Are the Most Common Phobias or Fears Treated? Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/most-common-phobias-4136563
 Posted by Dr. Andrew Rosen, Rosen, D. A., & Anderson, J. (2017, April 7). Virtual Reality Therapy for Phobias. Retrieved from https://centerforanxietydisorders.com/virtual-reality-therapy-for-phobias/