Digital Single Market
Digital Economy & Society

ICT 2013

Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy for Anxiety Disorder Treatment at Home

Social phobia, is one of the most often occurring types of mental disorder, with reports that estimate this to affect 13.3% of the US population, and 6.7% of European population during their live (life-time prevalence). The effect of this phobia on patients includes secondary depression and substance abuse, restricted socialization and poor employment and education performance.

The gold standard to treat patient with social phobia is gradual exposure in vivo, where they are gradually exposed to more anxiety provoking real-life situations until their fear dissipates. Although exposure in vivo is an effective method, there are some clear limitations, for example; (1) some specific social situations are difficult to arrange therefore the treatment becomes expensive; (2) therapists have limited controls over the exposure elements; (3) a high number of drop out as patients are not always willing to be treated in the dreaded situation they fear; and (4) limited and lack of trained therapists hence create a long waiting list for the treatment and difficulty to get access toward face-to-face therapy in rural areas.

In order to tackle the mentioned problems, we develop a system called Virtual reality Exposure therapy (VRET) specific for social anxiety disorder patient. VRET technology has been proposed as an effective alternative to overcome these shortcomings of exposure in vivo, including patients’ willingness to participate. Contrary to exposure in vivo, exposure in virtual reality makes the control of exposure elements more manageable and cost effective since the patient is exposed in a controlled Virtual Environment (VE) where the parameters of anxiety evoking stimuli (i.e. the social setting environments, avatar’s eye gaze, avatar’s dialogue style and the narrative stories that included in the exposure session) can be easily changed and manipulated by the therapist based on the patient's behavior (subjective unit of discomfort, the length of the speech) and their physiological responses (heart rate, perspiration, speech emotion). Social setting that already available in this project are public speaking scenario, clothing shop, public transport (bus and train station), dinner in the restaurant, job interview, interviewed by journalist in the public space and keep counting in the near future. Moreover, our VRET system can be used remotely over the internet, therefore able to bridging the gap of the difficulty to get access toward face-to-face therapy in rural areas, hence can save time and demanding treatment cost.


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