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If your life is limited due to intense fears (phobias) of things like flying, heights, public speaking, or thunderstorms, Duke Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences’ state-of-the-art Virtual Reality Program can help you overcome them.
Virtual reality (VR) therapy has been proven to successfully treat phobia patients by using simulated real-life experiences in a safe and confidential setting.
Anxiety disorders -- such as phobias -- can make life difficult, or even unbearable, for many people. Treatment to overcome anxiety disorders has traditionally involved practicing new behaviors while being exposed to the feared situation. With repeated exposures, the fear response is gradually replaced with the desired behavior.
While effective, this approach often requires the therapist and patient to repeatedly venture out into the real world to encounter the fear-inducing experience. Because each trip requires an extended time in an uncontrolled environment, progress may be slow.
VR therapy offers patients a successful alternative to traditional treatment -- one that can help them break free from life-limiting phobias, often in a matter of weeks.
VR uses the most sophisticated computer technology to recreate the sights and sounds of a fear-provoking situation in a “virtual” environment. Patients enter this simulated environment by putting on a head-mount display -- like those used in virtual reality games. The therapist uses a computer keyboard to control everything patients see and hear.
For example, a patient with a fear of flying will experience a variety of flight-related situations, such as sitting on and taxiing down the runway, taking off, flying in different types of weather, and landing. The therapist can replay the simulation of the parts of the flying experience that cause the patient the most anxiety as many times as necessary until the patient is comfortable with it.
Throughout the program, a specially trained therapist teaches each patient relaxation techniques to deal with the symptoms provoked by exposure to the virtual environment. During each exposure, the therapist helps the patient practice replacing the fear response with new behaviors. Over time, patients’ anxiety levels decrease as they are repeatedly exposed to the once-feared experience.
There are distinct advantages to using a therapist-controlled, simulated environment for the treatment of phobias and other anxiety disorders. These include:
Patients don’t waste time going into the real world in search of the experiences that cause them anxiety. By controlling all aspects of the simulated environment, the therapist can repeatedly expose patients to each phase of a fear-provoking event until it is mastered, which can greatly shorten the time required to overcome the phobia in comparison with traditional therapies.
Please note that except for participants in Duke employee-health plans, the Duke Virtual Reality Therapy Program is a fee-for-service clinic.
To learn more about Duke Mental Health’s Virtual Reality Program, or to schedule an appointment or get a referral, contact Cynthia D. Jones, MS, LPC, at 919-286-5261, or call 888-ASK-DUKE (888-275-3853) toll-free.