Are you scared of heights? How do you feel about trying to cure those fears by taking a trip to the top of New York’s One World Trade Center, the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere? Perhaps counterintuitively, such a terrifying scenario may actually be one of the best ways to overcome acrophobia, according to a treatment known as exposure therapy.
This therapy is something that Lithuanian software development company TeleSoftas wants to help with, courtesy of its “VR Inner Child” software, an immersive virtual reality tool created to help psychotherapists treat phobias. The VR experience involves a hyper-realistic simulation in which patients face a child version of their virtual selves, who then guides them through the dizzying rooftop scene under a therapist’s supervision.
“The so-called ‘inner child’ interacts with the patient, gradually helping him or her overcome a specific fear — in this case the fear of heights — by tapping into the patient’s free inner child ego state,” Vytautas Kemesis, TeleSoftas’ chief technology officer, told Digital Trends. “While interacting with our inner child, we challenge our deeply held beliefs that form in early childhood, before our critical receptors are mature.”
The therapist tracks the patient’s stress parameters live at all times, and can adjust the actions of the avatar accordingly. Stress=level monitoring is carried out via sensors in a wrist-worn tracker, as well as the VR headset itself. Metrics that are measured include eye movement, heartbeat, perspiration, and skin temperature. These stress parameters allow a patient to be safely pushed to their limits and overcome their anxiety over a period of time — courtesy of a gamified system that lets them try and improve on their previous numbers.
“There haven’t been any clinical trials yet to prove its effectiveness,” Kemesis said. “However, transactional analysis theory, which is what our technology is based on, has been applied for many years to treat various mental disorders and phobias. VR Inner Child is [currently] only a prototype created to show the possibilities that open when IT and medical experts combine their know-how and collaborate to challenge the mental health care industry.”
A demo of the experience will be shown off next week at Mobile World Congress 2018in Barcelona, Spain. Oh, and if you’re not afraid of heights, subsequent phobia-challenging VR experiences promise to include open and closed spaces, public speaking, and spiders!