Virtual reality and agoraphobia (fear of open spaces)

Agoraphobia is a fear of open spaces which is the polar opposite of claustrophobia. But, both these phobias cause a great deal of anxiety and distress for the sufferer. This often causes the affected person to avoid situations which trigger an anxiety reaction but this can impact their work and home life.

This article talks about the use of a computerised therapy or virtual reality immersion therapy as a means of investigating and treating this type of phobia.

Virtual reality treatment for agoraphobia

How does this work? The affected person is given a head mounted display (HMD) to wear which contains a tracking system, headphones and/or microphone. This enables the therapist or counsellor to monitor their reactions and adapt their treatment accordingly.

A fear of open spaces includes the countryside, beaches, roads, shopping centres and cities. But these can be recreated in virtual reality as a way of enabling the sufferer to overcome their fears and participate in society. They are shown images from a virtual landscape which they can move around in and experience as being in the real world. Doing this on a regular basis starts to reduce their anxiety levels as well as removing the threat which triggers the anxiety reaction.

The overall aim is for the sufferer to become familiar with being outside that they no longer feel scared or anxious when they do so. This familiarity is then transferred to the real world: by this time the sufferer will have become accustomed to the source of their phobia that it no longer holds any fears for them and is able to go outside.

The affected person is given a head mounted display (HMD) to wear which displays a series of images. These images change as the person moves their head which also alters their perception. This replicates what would happen in the real world which ensures that their experience is realistic and engaging.

The therapist hopes that the sufferer will confront the source of their phobia and takes steps to deal with it which allows them to live a normal life.

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