Nathalie is agoraphobic and acrophobic, both anxiety disorders, the former involves fear of places or situations that may cause panic, the latter a pathological fear of heights.
Doctors at the Van Gogh Hospital in Charleroi, Belgium, are using virtual reality to help her control her fears.
Noël Schepers, a psychologist at the hospital, explained: ‘‘The individual who takes on a virtual reality test knows they are in a safe environment, but the brain reacts as if it were real and it is here that the shift occurs that helps get people better in exercise therapy. Originally, the virtual therapy found a key in the diversion of video games. That’s how we were able to use sets for acrophobia or fear of heights, or for post-traumatic stress disorder. “
There are many different kind of phobias. Ideally, each programme would be customised in accordance with the patient’s needs.
In Switzerland researchers are working on a alternative reality machine that could offer a more specific experience.
Bruno Herbelin, a neuro scientist at EPFL, Lausanne, said: “For our virtual reality machine, we started from the idea that instead of creating a 3D image content, we would rather film it. With a special kind of camera we are able to film a panoramic sequence, with sound, and enjoy a real experience through virtual reality.”
These devices are growing ever popular in the treatment of phobias.
However, researchers still have much work ahead if they are to conquer these complex anxiety disorders.