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Virtual reality and mobile phones in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorders: a phase-2 clinical trial


Several studies have demonstrated that exposure therapy—in which the patient is exposed to specific feared situations or objects that trigger anxiety—is an effective way to treat anxiety disorders. However, to overcome a number of limitations inherent in this approach—lack of full control of the situation, costs and time required, etc.—some therapists have started to add virtual reality (VR) to the in vivo exposure-based therapy, providing in-office, controlled exposure therapy. Compared to the in vivo exposure, VR Exposure Therapy (VRET) is completely controlled: the quality, the intensity and the frequency of the exposure are decided by the therapist, and the therapy can be stopped at any time if the patient does not tolerate it. Moreover, the flexibility of a virtual experience allows the patient to experience situations that are often much worse and more exaggerated than those that are likely to be encountered in real life. However, a critical issue underlying the use of VRET in the treatment of anxiety-related disorders is the lack of a virtual reality system in the patient’s real-life context. In this paper, we present a clinical protocol for the treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorders (GAD) based on the ubiquitous use of a biofeedback-enhanced VR system. The protocol includes the use of a mobile exposure system allowing patients to perform the virtual experience in an outpatient setting. A between-subjects study, involving 25 GAD patients, was carried out to verify the efficacy of the proposed approach. The clinical data in this pilot study seemed to support the efficacy of the ubiquitous approach.

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The present work was supported by the European Union IST Programme (Project “INTREPID—A Virtual Reality Intelligent Multi-sensor Wearable System for Phobias’ Treatment”—IST-2002-507464). The virtual environments used in the study were developed by the ESIEA INTREPID team (J.L. Dautin, J. Ardouin, F. Crison and M. Le Renard— using 3DVIA Virtools 4.1.

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Correspondence to Claudia Repetto.

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Repetto, C., Gaggioli, A., Pallavicini, F. et al. Virtual reality and mobile phones in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorders: a phase-2 clinical trial. Pers Ubiquit Comput 17, 253–260 (2013).

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  • Virtual reality
  • Mobile phones
  • Generalized anxiety disorders
  • Clinical trial
  • Ubiquitous computing