Virtual reality and claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces)

The fear of enclosed spaces or ‘claustrophobia’ is one of the more common types of phobias which are treated by therapies such as hypnotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). But new forms of technology such as virtual reality have been utilised as a means of treating phobias such as these and are proving to be en effective way of doing so.

This article looks at how virtual reality is being used to treat people with claustrophobia.

A new, computerised form of therapy is virtual reality. Virtual reality is a technology which enables a person to move and interact within a three dimensional environment. The person sees these images via a head mounted display (HMD) or virtual reality glasses which change as they move their head. This shift in perception adds to the experience.

Virtual reality treatment for claustrophobia

How does this work with claustrophobia? The affected person is exposed to the anxiety causing situation, for example a tunnel but in a safe environment. The affected person is shown ways of coping with the symptoms of their phobia and what to expect in future situations. The aim of this therapy is for the sufferer to experience the cause of their phobia on a repeated basis until they are relaxed and comfortable with doing so.

The idea behind this is that the more times the sufferer is exposed to the source of their phobia, e.g. a lift, the more they will become used to this situation, safe in the knowledge that they are in a non-threatening environment. The aim of the treatment is for the sufferer to become relaxed and confident in a situation such as this and able to cope with it. This is possible as long as they do not perceive it to be a threat.

Virtual reality therapy is adjusted to individual needs and takes differing levels of anxiety into account. If the sufferer finds the virtual scenario too threatening then the treatment can be taken down a notch or two. Alternately, they can exit the virtual scenario.

The underlying cause of the phobia also needs to be addressed. Phobias such as this often develop in childhood and usually as a result of an incident, e.g. becoming trapped in a small space. But a computerised therapy such as this will help the sufferer to overcome their fears and live an everyday life.

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