Virtual reality to help cure fear of heights in NHS Oxfordshire pilot IndustryMail
Patients in the county will be among the first in England to be offered the state-of-the-art therapy to treat the phobia which affects around one in five people at some point in their lives.
Experts say the technology, which was trialled in Oxford, can help transform the lives of those who suffer from an often debilitating fear of heights, many of whom never even seek treatment.
Researcher at Oxford University, Daniel Freeman, who led the clinical trials said the new method delivers’ the best’ psychological therapy in virtual reality using an avatar coach.
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He added: “Our aim is to enable millions of people to have the very best psychological therapy – and we believe that this can be achieved using VR-enabled immersive therapy.
“We’ve got to let go of the idea that therapy can only be done face-to-face and recognise the huge gains tech interventions can potentially provide.”
In the treatment programme, patients are gradually and systematically exposed to powerful virtual reality scenarios that trigger their symptoms but because these situations do not have any of the perceived real-life dangers, patients have the confidence to try things they would normally avoid.
Clinical trials have shown the method to give results at least as good as, if not better than, face-to-face therapy.
The study put people through an average of two hours of VR therapy over five treatment sessions with all participants showing a significant reduction in fear of heights.
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The therapy will soon be offered across Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire by TalkingSpace Plus and Healthy Minds, both services run by Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust.
Retired paramedic Richard would previously avoid situations where he would be confronted by heights or altitude.
Since undergoing the therapy, however, he said: “I can now go to the Westgate Centre and I am able to freely walk around and go to all floors and even look out over the balcony.
“This is something that would been simply impossible for me to do before having this treatment.”
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Jo Ryder, clinical lead for TalkingSpace Plus in Oxfordshire, said: “Fear of heights can have a significant impact on the way people live their lives but many people never seek treatment instead they avoid the thing which makes them afraid.
“This VR pilot will enable them to stop adapting their life to avoid their fear and their experience of the treatment will influence the way it is rolled out across the UK.”
The VR therapy is expected to be made available later this year.