Virtual reality and tonitrophobia (fear of thunderstorms)

A phobia about thunderstorms or ‘tonitrophobia’ is one of the lesser known phobias but like any other phobia it causes stress and anxiety. It is a very specific type of phobia but nevertheless, requires therapy in order to treat it.

Virtual reality is one of the newer forms of therapy being used to treat phobias such as this. This article discusses this in more detail.

A fear of thunderstorms includes not only thunder and lightening but gales, heavy rain and hail. Anything which causes a noticeable change in the weather is perceived to be a threat which results in symptoms of anxiety such as light headedness, rapid heartbeat, increased respiration, tremors and disorientation. In some cases these lead to a panic attack.

Virtual reality treatment for tonitrophobia

How can virtual reality help? What virtual reality does is to enable the affected person to become immersed in a virtual environment which is the source of their phobia. In this case the person is scared of thunderstorms so they will be shown a series of scenarios featuring this and other adverse weather conditions.

The idea behind this is that through repeated exposure the affected person will become used to this situation and start to relax. They will go from seeing this as a threat to one that they can cope with by adopting a few coping strategies. Their anxiety levels are measured and the results used in the planning of their treatment.

The affected person wears a head mounted display (HMD) which enables them to see and experience various weather conditions. These images shift as they move their head which adds a sense of realism and maintains the immersion. Each scenario is designed to test their coping skills and records their anxiety levels. The person then progresses through these scenarios after they have learnt how to relax and handle the situation. Once they have done so and the therapist is satisfied with their response they then move onto another scenario.

The affected person is in control of the situation at all times. They have the option to return to another scenario if they are experiencing uncomfortable levels of anxiety. Plus there is the option to leave the virtual environment all together.

Once the affected person feels safe they start to relax which eases their symptoms and removes the feelings of apprehension. Over time this leads to a cessation of symptoms and the phobia itself.

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