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Scared of heights? This new VR therapy could help

Participants became less fearful after an avatar coached them through edge-of-ledge moments

By
10:33am, July 13, 2018
virtual reality therapy program

DON’T LOOK DOWN In a new virtual reality therapy program, an animated coach guides participants through activities (like saving a cat from a tree) that help them overcome their fear of heights.

Future therapy patients may spend a lot more time exploring virtual environments than sitting on sofas.

In a clinical trial of a new virtual reality treatment for fear of heights, participants reported being much less afraid after using the program for just two weeks. Unlike other VR therapies, which required that a real-life therapist guide patients through treatment, the new system uses an animated avatar to coach patients through ascending a virtual high-rise. This kind of fully automated counseling system, described online July 11 in the Lancet Psychiatry, may make psychological treatments for phobias and other disorders far more accessible.

This is “a huge step forward” for therapeutic VR, says Jennifer Hames, a clinical psychologist at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, who wasn’t involved in the work. By bringing expert therapy out of

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