Phobias, those extreme or irrational fears people have of maybe heights, or spiders, can make normal life difficult for many sufferers. But in Mexico, one student engineer has come up with an innovative way to treat patients’ conditions, using Virtual Reality (VR) technology to gradually expose them to their fears.
Twenty-three-year-old Adriana Martinez came up with the idea after previous treatments for her own phobias were ineffective.
“We use a VR headset to show patients the subjects of their phobias, while at the same time monitoring their beta brain waves, and increasing exposure as stress levels decrease,” said VR Phobia Technology Inventor Adriana Martinez. “It’s similar to current exposure treatments, but is conducted in an entirely safe environment.”
Adriana’s VR technology is currently designed to tackle two conditions: Nyctophobia, fear of the dark –and Acrophobia, a fear of heights. But she says she hopes to develop the technology to help people overcome a whole host of other phobias, as well.
The VR technology reflects the reality that a patient is afraid of. Fear of the dark is treated by gradually fading light within the headset, while patients with a fear of heights experience the simulation of gradually ascending from a virtual ground level.
Raymundo Moreno suffers from vertigo, and says the new technology would be a great help to him.
“Heights cause me a lot of stress. When in those situations my palms start to sweat and I get very dizzy,” Raymundo Moreno, who is acrophobic. “The VR is a very vivid experience, and I think it could help me with my fears, because you truly feel you are in that reality.”
“The longer a phobia goes untreated, the more serious it generally becomes,” said psychologist Lorena Larios. “A fear of spiders, for instance, can evolve into a fear of all insects, while a fear of speaking in public can turn into a terror of personal contact. Modern technology can be a great tool for tackling these issues.”
As VR technology becomes more commonplace, the hope is that phobia treatments will develop alongside it, and go towards helping sufferers in Mexico and beyond.