Children and adolescents who suffer from phobias can benefit from a new tech treatment: virtual reality is being used for treating phobias when it’s coupled with other therapeutic methods. Therapists report seeing significant and long-lasting results that curtail the anxiety and fears occurring from phobias.
“VR is used to treat a range of phobias including claustrophobia and the fear of open spaces, public speaking, flying, heights and spiders,” Jeffrey I. Gold, PhD, CHLA’s director of Children’s Outcomes, Research, and Evaluation (C.O.R.E.) Program and Pediatric Pain Management Clinic, tells Parentology.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy, a term that includes the practice of immersion therapy, is thought to be the most effective way to treat phobias with an estimated success rate of nearly 90 percent. Gold, who regularly uses VR to help children with pain management, explains the steps the complementary use of VR and cognitive therapies would take.
“A graded exposure model is used in treatments specific to a particular phobia,” he explains. “So if a child is afraid of insects, they’d initially be introduced to a virtual environment with triggers that remind them of insects.” Over time, Gold says, the child would see the insects at the root of their phobia. A therapist guides them as they learn to work through the anxiety, fear, and stress they feel in response to seeing these images.
VR combined with additional therapies has proven to deliver results for patients with a range of needs. In a study conducted earlier this year, researchers found when immersive VR techniques were used by children with autism, 45 percent were still experiencing relief from their phobias six months after treatments ended.