Clinicians at an Adelaide psychology practice are using virtual-reality technology to help kids overcome crippling fears and anxiety sparked by everything from

Can virtual reality (VR) help someone overcome their fear of flying?

I used to do ‘systematic desensitization’ a lot when I started out as a neuro-psych. It’s based on the belief, or fact, that anxiety and fears are the results of muscle tension. Test-taking anxiety is an example, or fear of public speaking. So, if you can teach somebody to relax completely with a combination of biofeedback and guided tensing and relaxing of muscle groups, then the therapy continues by introducing imagery that starts at some distance from the feared subject and moving closer as the person continues to relax until they’re imagining the feared situation. After a few sessions of this Jacobsonian relaxation and progressive, systematic desensitization, most people would overcome their fears and take a test or give a presentation without much fear.

I hadn’t thought of it before, it’s been 45 years since I’ve been a shrink, but I don’t see why VR couldn’t be introduced as part of systematic desensitization, and if I was teaching psych instead of information systems I’d probably be doing research on VR as part of systematic desensitization.

Biofeedback was new when I was in grad school and on clinical internships, there weren’t any devices on the market and our EMGs-Electro MyoGraphs were built by the school’s or hospital’s instrument maker. Now all the biofeedback stuff is packaged into nice units that sit in the therapists relaxation room and also includes EEG-Electro Encephalographs for alpha wave training. All this is is effective in therapy for fears, migranes, problems following a paralyzing stroke, and other problems.

I don’t see why adding VR as part of the graded exercises as the imagery progresses closer to the feared object or situation. If I was teaching clinical psych instead of information systems, I’d have my graduate students working with VR as part of systematic desensitization…