Whether it’s the fear of heights, small spaces, or flying, a phobia can be quite unpleasant. No matter the type of phobia, it can powerfully interfere with your life and stop you from enjoying great experiences.
But in most cases, there are ways to get rid of phobias — and virtual reality can play a part in that.
What is a phobia?
Everybody fears something and in most situations, that’s absolutely fine — it helps us stay away from dangerous situations. But when the fear is so intense that it actually stops you from living your everyday life normally, it is no longer something you can bear and avoid.
People who don’t struggle with a phobia perceive those fears as irrationally and exaggerated. However, for those who struggle with this type of fear, a phobia can cause them tremendous anxiety and acute panic.
Phobia is defined by clinical psychologists as an anxiety disorder which triggers the intense and irrational fear experienced by the patient towards a specific object or situation. The most common phobias and fears that people struggle with include fear of flying insects, fear of snakes, fear of being trapped in small places, the fear of highway driving, and the phobia of needles. However, people can develop phobia and fear towards absolutely anything that surrounds them based on their experience with that certain thing.
VR vs phobias
When you hear about virtual reality, your mind almost certainly drifts to video games. VR in video games is extremely popular nowadays because it helps the players experience the virtual world of the game to the fullest. Yet, the innovation of virtual reality is such a big thing that shouldn’t only be used by the gaming industry — and that is exactly how it first made its appearance in the medical field.
Psychologists offer virtual reality therapy to their patients to help them face their fears and overcome them. Virtual reality can help the patients fully experience the things they fear without being put in dangerous situations in the real world. This technology helps users experience an environment and all the elements in it in a virtual world. The environment is computer-generated and adjusted with controlled setting by the specialists to match with the phobia or fear of the patient. For example, for patients who suffer from height phobia, the VR therapy will design and place them into an environment that places them on a very high building or top of a mountain.
The virtual environments in which the patients are introduced are very complex. They represent an exact replica of a real-world situation, object, and environment in order to create an experience that is as close as possible to reality. The virtual environments contain elements such as 3D graphics, 360-degree panoramas, and sounds. The virtual reality therapy is now being explored more deeply by specialists to discover ways to use it to treat even more severe conditions such as schizophrenia and depression.
The most common phobias treated with virtual reality therapy
Virtual reality therapy is a newly discovered field but it is very promising to help people with phobias to overcome them. This type of therapy requires the patient to put on a headset and experience the animated virtual environment they see. However, the therapy sessions are conducted by experienced psychologists who can offer emotional support to the patient and help them shape their experience into something that eliminates their fear.
Fear of heights
The fear of heights is one of the most common phobias around the world. Perhaps because it is a situation that you can encounter all the time in your life. However, for some people, walking near ledges, passing bridges, or riding in glass elevators can be a terrible experience that leads to intense fear and anxiety. Virtual reality therapy for this type of fear introduces the patient into a virtual environment which often displays the top of a skyscraper or the edge of a high mountain.
The patients are able to experience and overcome their fear without having to face a dangerous situation which can put their life to risk. Although they might feel like falling from the top of a building, there is only in the virtual world and they are safe on the couch of their psychologist.
For those who have a driver’s license for a long time, it is difficult to understand the type of fear others feel when it comes to driving. However, the fear of driving is actually very real and common among people who suffer from anxiety.
A racing simulator is a great opportunity for those who have driving phobias to enjoy the road at a whole new level without being exposed to any dangerous situation. Racing simulators allow them a realistic driving experience from allowing them to control the wheel to hitting the break.
The use of driving simulators can not only help people who fear driving but also those who want to improve their driving skills without being on the road until they master these skills. Driving simulators combined with virtual reality allows users to fully experience the road, traffic, and learn who to cope when surrounded by other traffic participants. Racing simulators can also be used by racing enthusiasts to overcome their anxiety and learn who to drive carefully under a lot of pressure.