Virtual reality to help conquer fears

Virtual reality to help conquer fears

Published by KLFM
6:35am 27th February 2020.

Whether it's needles or spiders, there's a new way to help tackle your phobias in Norfolk.

The Wellbeing service of the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) is now using virtual reality headsets and worlds to help treat people with fears.

It will help people to be gently exposed to what scares them,helping them to manage their feelings and hopefully overcome their fear.

As part of the patient's treatment, VR headsets and specially-created virtual worlds will be used to gradually increase their exposure to situations they would usually avoid, helping them to manage their feelings in a safe and controlled environment. This will take place as part of a wider treatment plan, and in addition to talking therapies.

It is thought that NSFT is one of the first mental health trusts to offer VR for such an extensive range of phobias, which includes fear of exams, driving, public speaking and storms.

Nesta Reeve, Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Clinical Lead for the Wellbeing service, said: 

"We are really excited to be one of the first to introduce this technology so widely and hope it will make a real difference to lots of people who are struggling with a variety of different fears.

"Phobias can have a real impact on people's lives, preventing them from travelling, enjoying time with friends and, in some cases, even leaving their house. Others can have such severe phobias that they end up putting their health at risk by failing to have vaccinations or avoiding MRI scans or other claustrophobic situations.

"Previously, our practitioners would work with their service user to build up exposure to their phobia by watching videos or finding a stimulus in the real world. The VR technology is much more realistic, and has the added benefit that it can be stopped at any time which makes it incredibly safe.

"We are also able to completely control the virtual environment, such as changing the weather conditions for someone who is scared of flying, which can really help to prepare them to face every possible scenario in their everyday lives.

"Ultimately, we hope that more people will come forward to ask for help with their phobias now that we have this technology, and that using VR will help them to get better more quickly so that they can enjoy activities which many of us take for granted." 

The project has been funded with £10,000 in digital innovation funding specifically for IAPT (Increasing Access to Psychological Therapy) projects.