Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Virtual Reality Makes Exposure Therapy More Palatable, Effective. (for Specific Phobia)

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Virtual Reality Makes Exposure Therapy More Palatable, Effective. (for Specific Phobia)

Article excerpt

PHILADELPHIA -- Virtual-reality technology can provide exposure therapy for fears and phobias in a form that eliminates much of the difficulty that can keep patients out of conventional treatment, Dr. Azucena Garcia-Palacios said at the annual meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy.

A substantial majority of individuals prefer virtual reality when given the choice, and the difference is even more striking when intensive therapy is in question, said Dr. Garcia-Palacios of University of Washington, Seattle.

Specific phobias are common, affecting 10% of the U.S. population; many other individuals have extreme, focused fears that do not satisfy syndromal criteria. Exposure therapy, a treatment of proven efficacy, achieves substantial clinical improvements in 75%95% of patients. With this technique, the patient is exposed to the feared object or situation with gradually increasing proximity or intensity until he or she can tolerate it with a low level of anxiety.

Exposure therapy can be administered over time or in a single intensive session.

Only 15%-20% of people with phobias seek treatment, and one-fourth of them refuse or drop out of exposure therapy. "They're too afraid to confront the feared situation," Dr. Garcia-Palacios said.

Virtual reality has been proposed as a vehicle for exposure therapy on the assumption that the patient's greater level of control over the experience should make the process less intimidating. The vehicle has other advantages as well: Exposure can be more easily and accurately graded through virtual-reality manipulations than in real life, and repetition, a key element of treatment, is simplified. …

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