Hi-tech help at hand for pho­bia suf­fer­ers

China Daily (USA) - - WORLD - By XIN­HUA in Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia

Peo­ple with pho­bias could be helped by the ar­rival of com­mer­cially avail­able vir­tual re­al­ity sys­tems, a study has found.

Us­ing the HTC Vive and Ocu­lus Rift VR sys­tems, re­searchers from the Univer­sity of Mel­bourne have proved that VR could pro­vide cheap and ac­ces­si­ble men­tal health care, such as deal­ing with fears of pub­lic speak­ing, heights and spi­ders.

Rudi­men­tary VR sys­tems, which cost thou­sands of dol­lars, have been used by med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als to treat pa­tients with a fear of fly­ing for decades, but the new sys­tems, which are cheaper and more ad­vanced, could ex­pand the range of treat­ment.

Greg Wadley, a tech­nol­o­gist from the univer­sity, said the new sys­tems can vast ly im­prove on the re­al­ism and im­mer­sion of­fered by old VR tech­nol­ogy, as well as mak­ing sit­u­a­tions more be­hav­iorally ac­cu­rate.

“So you can imag­ine the au­di­ence re­spond­ing to things that you’re say­ing in a re­al­is­tic way,” Wadley told the ABC net­work on Wed­nes­day.

Wadley said the tech­nol­ogy of­fered the op­por­tu­nity to treat pa­tients with a fear of pub­lic speak­ing or of an­i­mals such as spi­ders with ex­po­sure ther­apy, whereby pa­tients face the ob­ject or sit­u­a­tion they have a pho­bia of in a com­pletely con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment.

The univer­sity team be­lieve the next big step for VR is to use it in con­junc­tion with psy­chi­atric ther­apy ses­sions to treat dis­or­ders such as de­pres­sion or other forms of men­tal ill­ness.

Wadley said cur­rent treat­ments for th­ese con­di­tions in­volve try­ing to help peo­ple un­der­stand how their minds work. An ex­am­ple of this is teach­ing them about “mind­ful­ness”.

The idea of mind­ful­ness is to view your thoughts as be­ing in some sense ex­ter­nal to you, so that you can ob­serve them ap­pear­ing and dis­ap­pear­ing, and so deal with them bet­ter.

“You can ac­tu­ally vi­su­al­ize your thoughts and your emo­tions as thoughts that are in front of you and that you can deal with.

“They’re not just part of you that you have no con­trol over, they’re ob­jects that you can ma­nip­u­late or deal with in some way,” he said.

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