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Perspective ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Psychiatry | doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00773

Using Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET) to Enhance Treatment of Anxiety Disorders: Identifying Areas of Clinical Adoption and Potential Obstacles

  • 1National Mental Health Innovation Center, School of Medicine, University of Colorado, United States
  • 2Independent researcher, United States
  • 3Stanford University, United States

Despite strong evidence of effectiveness, exposure therapy is an underutilized treatment for anxiety disorders at a time when effective treatment for anxiety is greatly needed. The significant worldwide prevalence and negative impact of anxiety are documented and highlight the importance of increasing therapist and patient use of effective treatment. Obstacles to the use of exposure therapy are explored and steps to lessen these obstacles are proposed. In particular, virtual reality (VR) technology is discussed as a way to increase the availability of exposure therapy. Incorporating virtual reality (VR) in therapy can increase the ease, acceptability, and effectiveness of treatment for anxiety. VR exposure therapy (VRET) permits individualized, gradual, controlled, immersive exposure that is easy for therapists to implement and often more acceptable to patients than in vivo or imaginal exposure. VR is presented as a scalable tool that can augment access to and effectiveness of exposure therapy thus improving treatment of anxiety disorders. VR also has the potential to help with assessment and with therapist training standardization. The authors advocate for providing continuing education in VRET to practicing clinicians and including training in exposure therapy and VRET in training programs. Ongoing development of VR applications for clinical use is encouraged, especially when developed in collaboration with software developers, clinical users, therapists who are experienced in VRET, and researchers.

Keywords: Anxiety, Exposure therapy virtual reality, Mental Health, Technology, virtual reality

Received: 05 Jun 2019; Accepted: 25 Sep 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Boeldt, McMahon, McFaul and Greenleaf. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: PhD. Debra L. Boeldt, National Mental Health Innovation Center, School of Medicine, University of Colorado, Aurora, 80045, Colorado, United States, debra.boeldt@cuanschutz.edu