Virtual Reality Exposure Treatment

Virtual Reality Exposure Treatment

Prior to 1995, exposure therapy was primarily conducted using either imaginal exposure (thinking about the fears) or in-vivo exposure (facing your fears in the real world). For many types of anxiety disorders, in-vivo exposure is considered the gold standard for treatment – however, it can be both time consuming and costly. For this reason, Ozark Center, in consultation with Virtually Better Inc. (VBI), provides virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET), a technology-enabled treatment approach. 

VBI, an industry leader in the area of virtual reality and behavioral health for the past 15 years, has developed evidence-based, state-of-the-art technology to effectively treat a variety of anxiety symptoms. VBI creates innovative technology solutions, such as virtual worlds and online tools, to enhance behavioral health care, training, basic research, and consultation practices.

Ozark Center provides VRET to treat issues such as generalized anxiety, panic attacks, social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder. Virtual reality treatment gives the client a greater sense of mastery and control when faced with real-life issues.

Virtual reality treatment uses customized virtual environments that have been carefully designed to support exposure therapy of anxiety disorders. Through virtual reality, the client is exposed to a feared situation in a safe, controlled environment, rather than taking him or her into the actual environment or having him or her imagine it. The virtual environment is controlled by a therapist, ensuring full control of the exposure to the feared situation. VRET treatment allows the therapist to manipulate situations to best suit the individual during a standard therapy session and within the confines of the therapist’s office. 

Virtual reality programs

  • Fear of bridges – unique concept where patient is guided through a series of feared situations depicting various bridges. Target: children to adults
  • Fear of flying – creates the experience of boarding, taking off and landing in a passenger airliner in good or bad weather conditions. Sound effects correspond to type of sounds experienced in flight, including mechanical noises, coughing, infant crying and weather-related phenomena. Target: children to adults
  • Fear of heights – virtual elevator guides patients in their ascent/descent of tall building, and high walkways overlooking the building’s lobby exposing individuals to feared situations. Target: children to adults
  • Fear of storms – sound effects correspond to typical sounds experienced in various weather conditions in both indoor and outdoor settings. Target: children to adults
  • Fear of public speaking – sound effects correspond to typical sounds experienced in public speaking situations, including coughing, microphone feedback, cell phone ringing in the audience and other environmental noises. Target: children to adults

Relaxation suites

  • Aquarium – features several virtual aquariums and tranquil underwater worlds. Program can be used as an aide to many traditional relaxation techniques such as biofeedback, mindfulness relaxation, imagery-guided relaxation and more. Target: children
  • Calm craft – features biofeedback modality (via respiration rate) to provide an objective assessment of user’s response to relaxation instructions. Child navigates through a fantasy underwater world while collecting photographs of sea-dwelling creatures. This teaches children how to control their breathing to gain greater control of their stress response. Target: children
  • Progressive muscle relaxation – features a virtual therapist office with typical props (couch, desk, tabletop fountain, candles). Used to target specific muscle groups. Target: children and adults

Addiction suite

For patients wishing to take control of their alcohol or nicotine use.

  • Virtual environments – visuals of bar, restaurant, convenience or liquor store, party or home where temptations to engage in substance abuse are manipulated by presence of nicotine and/or alcohol. Target: adults
  • Virtual bartender – offers opportunities for patient to engage in interactions and practice strengthening of abstinence/moderation skills. Target: adults

Bravemind

  • Virtual war zone – visual exposure to danger in war zone for individuals with combat-related PTSD. Two main virtual environments are Iraq and Afghanistan
  • Scenarios – foot patrol, convoys, medical evacuations via helicopters. Therapist can customize environment to include explosions, firefights, insurgent attacks and roadside bombs with visuals and sound effects. Target: adult veterans with military experience and overseas contractors

Funding for this project was provided in part by the Missouri Foundation for Health.  The Missouri Foundation for Health is a philanthropic organization whose vision is to improve the health of the people in the communities it serves.