THURSDAY, July 12, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Automated virtual reality (VR) treatments can alleviate fear of heights, according to a study published online July 11 in The Lancet Psychiatry.

Daniel Freeman, Ph.D., from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, and colleagues conducted a randomized trial of automated VR versus usual care in adults aged older than 18 years with a fear of heights. One hundred participants were randomized to either automated VR delivery in roughly six 30-minute sessions administered two to three times per week over a two-week period (49 participants) or to usual care (51 participants). Three fear-of-height assessments were conducted at baseline, end of treatment (two weeks), and follow-up (four weeks).

The researchers found that the VR treatment reduced fear of heights at the end of treatment compared with the control groups (mean change score on the Heights Interpretation Questionnaire: −24.5 versus −1.2; adjusted difference, −24.0). The benefit was maintained at follow-up (mean change score, −25.1 versus −1.5; adjusted difference, −24.3). To at least halve the fear of heights, the number needed to treat was 1.3; there were no reports of adverse events.

“Psychological therapy delivered automatically by a VR coach can produce large clinical benefits,” the authors write. “Evidence-based VR treatments have the potential to greatly increase treatment provision for mental health disorders.”

Several authors disclosed financial ties to Oxford VR and Virtual Bodyworks. Oxford VR contributed funding to the study.

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