Leslie’s nails were digging into my right hand, enough so that little half circles of blood — precisely the size of the tips of her long fingernails — were starting to appear. She was freaking out that we were thousands of feet above ground on a plane headed to Madrid, Spain. I was 16 at the time and accustomed to spending hours flying over the Atlantic Ocean; I completely didn’t get what she was going through. I don’t know if Leslie managed to get over her fear of flying. If she hasn’t, maybe virtual reality exposure therapy could be helpful.
Virtual reality exposure therapy creates simulations of the anxiety-ridden experience for people suffering from various anxiety disorders. By dealing with the emotions that come up during those simulations, patients can be better prepared to handle the real-world situations when they happen.
According to Wired magazine, virtual reality has been used for years in the treatment of serious phobias, post-traumatic stress and even with burn victims’ pain. Patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder and those with social phobias have also found relief with virtual reality exposure therapy, the Psychiatric Times says.
While the promise of virtual reality exposure therapy has been with us for many years, the cost of the virtual reality devices — as much as tens of thousands of dollars — has been prohibitively high for the average person.
News that a company called Psious is providing reasonably priced device simulators to help deal with issues, such as fear of public speaking and claustrophobia, is particularly exciting. According to Wired magazine, Psious provides a bundle of hardware — including a Homido headset, a smart phone and a haptic feedback (or touch-based) device — for $300.
“The most important factor driving down the cost of [virtual reality] gear is the rise of smartphones, which dramatically lowered the prices for components such as gyroscopes and accelerometers,” Howard Rose, a 20-year veteran of building virtual worlds for medical researchers, told Wired magazine. “Four years ago we were using $4,000 sensor networks. Sensors are now really cheap, and they’re everywhere. Displays have gotten better and smaller.”
According to the Anxiety and Depression Society of America, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults and develop as the result of a complex set of risk factors, which include brain chemistry, genetics, personality and life events. While the organization says that anxiety disorders are highly treatable, only about one-third of suffers get treatment.
Top photo courtesy of Psious’ Facebook page