The app, known as ZeroPhobia, is based on the techniques of exposure therapy, a form of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) that gradually allows people to confront their fear of heights.
Users create a VR headset by putting a smartphone in a cardboard holder and strapping it over their eyes. They then view a series of images that simulate the effect of looking down from heights.
Researcher Tara Donker said the results were comparable to conventional therapy, but at a fraction of the cost. ‘We can offer CBT for phobias without the intervention of a therapist, just with the patient’s smartphone and a VR set that costs less than €10.
‘Patients are gradually exposed in a VR environment to situations that they find frightening. In the case of vertigo, for example, they might stand on top of a tall building or on a balcony. In this way they learn step by step to cope with their fear.’
She added: ‘I think ZeroPhobia shows that stand-alone adaptations can help keep our health system affordable and make an important contribution to the quality of our care.’
Details of the study have been published in the scientific journal JAMA Psychiatry.
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