Virtual help for real fears

Virtual help for real fears

Using virtual reality to treat phobias and anxieties
August 19, 2013

For many of the 12 percent of Canadians who suffer from an anxiety disorder, excessive, paralysing fear disrupts relationships, school and work performance, and social and recreational activities. Moreover, the social and economic burden of mental illness is significant; according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, the cost of supporting someone with serious mental illness living in the community is over $34,000 per year and upwards of $170,000 if they are hospitalized.

To help alleviate anxieties such as fear of flying, fear of public speaking or obsessive compulsive disorders, Stéphane Bouchard, co-director of the Cyberpsychology Lab at Université du Québec en Outaouais, and his team created a clinic that uses virtual reality to treat people’s anxiety disorders. By exposing patients to the source of their fears gradually over time in a safe, monitored, private, 3-D environment, their fears dissipate just as much as they would with traditional therapy.

Funded in part by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Cliniques et Développement In Virtuo, created in 2008, also facilitates the transfer of knowledge of anxiety disorders from research centres to the general public by providing psychotherapy clinics with virtual reality software to treat patients.