Virtual reality and trypanophobia (fear of needles)

What is trypanophobia? This is the medical name for a fear of injections which affects more people than first realised. Many people dread injections and experience an extreme reaction such as fainting when faced with an injection. This is sometimes but not always accompanied by a fear of blood.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is one form of treatment but another is virtual reality immersion therapy (VRIT). This article talks about this in more detail.

The aim with this form of therapy is exposure: by this we mean to encourage the sufferer to face up to their fears which will help build their confidence and allow them regain control of the situation. A loss of control is a common feeling for many phobia sufferers who experience anxiety when threatened or are not in control of a situation.

Repeated exposure to the cause of the phobia starts to remove the fear and dread. The sufferer becomes accustomed to the situation and as a result, no longer feels scared or anxious. They feel confident and ready to handle whatever comes their way.

Virtual reality treatment for trypanophobia

What virtual reality does is to enable them to experience this but in a safe environment. They wear a head mounted display (HMD) which contains two lenses that display images to the wearer. These images change as the person turns their head which then alters their perception. A built in tracking system monitors this and feeds this information back to the therapist.

One example of this is a scenario in which the affected person is shown inside a doctor’s surgery. They able to move around this surgery – walk past reception -before entering a consultation room. Once there a virtual nurse will conduct a virtual blood test.

Biofeedback is used to record the person’s physical and emotional responses, for example a rise or fall in their anxiety levels. The person undergoes this therapy on several occasions with the aim of easing their phobia due to repeated exposure to the trigger, e.g. injections. This repeated exposure results in a gradual familiarisation with the situation which removes the sense of threat and regains control. The aim is to boost confidence and self-esteem.

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