VRMC currently uses virtual reality exposure therapy (3-dimensional computer simulation) in combination with biofeedback and cognitive behavioral therapy to treat phobias, anxiety (including pre-surgical anxiety), stress and chronic pain. Conditions treated include specific phobias such as fear of flying, fear of driving, fear of heights, fear of public speaking, claustrophobia, agoraphobia, panic disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder due to motor vehicle accidents. General stress management and relaxation skills are taught for stress-related disorders. At VRMC-Coronado, treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder due to military deployment is offered using VR in combination with biofeedback and individual psychotherapy.
Virtual reality exposure therapy places the client in a computer-generated world where they “experience” the various stimuli related to their phobia. The client wears a head-mounted display with small TV monitors and stereo earphones to receive both visual and auditory cues.
After an intake session and skill building sessions to teach the patient how to control automatic responses to anxiety-provoking situations, the therapist and client collaborate to create a hierarchy of anxiety-inducing situations. In careful, controlled stages, the client is exposed to these virtual experiences that elicit increasingly higher levels of anxiety. Each stage can be repeated until the client is comfortable with the experience and satisfied with their response. At every step, the therapist can see and hear what the client is experiencing in the virtual world. If the level of anxiety becomes overwhelming, the client can return to a less stressful level of treatment, or simply remove the head-mounted display and exit the virtual world.