Exposure therapy is already a popular treatment for people who suffer from specific phobias (intense fears that get in the way of life). Exposure therapy, just like the name suggests, involves exposing the patient to the stimuli they're afraid of. If a person has a phobia of spiders they may be asked to hold a spider in a glass container and to observe it. As the patient is exposed to the stimuli more and nothing bad happens their brain will learn that there is nothing to be afraid of.
While direct exposure therapy works great with some phobias, it doesn't work with other phobias. For example a phobia of airplanes. Forcing someone with airplane phobia unto a 2 hour flight will almost always leave them more afraid of planes after they arrive. The exposure lasts too long and the person can't really quit when they had enough, the plane has to get to its destination. The patient's fear of airplanes will just reinforce the belief that airplanes are bad and that he should be afraid of them.
With phobias such as flying different types of exposure therapy can come in handy. Right now exposure therapy for airplanes consists of virtual exposure. Patients may be put into simulations, some of the simulations even use VR. Virtual reality adds an additional layer of immersion which allows the patient to feel as though he really was on a plane. The exposure will only be for a few minutes and the patient can feel safe knowing he can quit whenever he wants by taking off the headset. Yet after many different sessions the patient will find himself dealing better with his phobia or even see it gone.
Exposure therapy is effective but it doesn't usually get rid of the fear. The goal of therapy is to make the patient be able to live with the fear and to not avoid it, the fear is usually still there. This is where virtual reality could again help with the problem. In-flight virtual reality could take anyone's mind to anywhere they want. A person in-flight could be virtually running around on a beach, after a few minutes he may even forget that he is on a plane.
Virtual reality headsets on planes may allow those with even the worst phobia of airplanes to travel anywhere the want, without having to deal with the fear.
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