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Advanced Computational Intelligence Paradigms in Healthcare 6. Virtual Reality in Psychotherapy, Rehabilitation, and Assessment

Volume 337 of the series Studies in Computational Intelligence pp 63-108

Virtual Reality as a Tool for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review

  • Simona ScozzariAffiliated withHTLab, Department of General Psychology, University of Padova
  • , Luciano GamberiniAffiliated withHTLab, Department of General Psychology, University of Padova

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Abstract

This chapter describes the deployment of Virtual Reality (VR) for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to treat anxiety and other psychological disorders. Regarding anxiety, the most common technique is constituted of Exposure Therapy that, transposed to Virtual Reality, allows the patient to face a digital version of the feared object or situation, instead of a real or imaginal one. Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET) has proved effective in the treatment of anxiety disorders such as social phobia, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and panic disorder with agoraphobia and has shown an efficacy comparable to traditional in-vivo exposure with various specific phobias such as arachnophobia, acrophobia, and fear of flying. Thanks to its versatility, VR has also found an employment within the CBT framework with other psychological disorders, such as substance abuse, eating disorders, and in inducing non-pharmacological analgesia in patients undergoing painful medical procedures. Even when VR-based therapy does not lead to better results than traditional CBT in terms of efficacy, there are several reasons for preferring it over in-vivo exposure, including patient’s comfort and safety, as well as the possibility to create complex or delicate scenarios (e.g. PTSD scenarios). In addition, VRET can be employed to facilitate the transition toward fearful objects in the real world in patients who would otherwise refuse to face real stimuli.