App-based virtual reality therapy, called ZeroPhobia, reduces acrophobia symptoms

The use of virtual reality shows to be effective in treating fear of heights, or acrophobia. Researchers from the VU and the University of Twente developed ZeroPhobia, a self-guided therapy delivered through a smartphone app and a low-cost virtual reality goggle. The study was led by APH researcher Tara Donker.

Donker mentions that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can now be used to treat phobias without the intervention of a therapist. As the most important element of CBT to treat phobias is ‘exposure’, ZeroPhobia gradually exposes patients through a VR-environment to situations they fear. At the same time, patients are aware of the fact that the VR-environment is not real, which makes it for patients easier to overcome these fears. The study also suggests that in the future it could be beneficial in treating other phobias as well, such as claustrophobia. Furthermore, the therapy has a major patient outreach as the VR-therapy is accessible, cheap and safe. The results of the study were published in the scientific journal JAMA Psychiatry.