Standard exposure therapy for the fear of flying usually requires that both the therapist and patient travel to the nearest airport, spend time on airplanes, and often take a flight together. Virtual Reality (VR) Therapy is conducted in the therapist's office, eliminating the need for travel to the airport. The patient enters the computer generated passenger cabin of a virtual airplane, in which she or he experiences the various aspects of flying. A head-mounted display, stereo sound, and tactile stimulation are provided. These visual and audio sensory cues are consistent with being in an actual airplane. In VR therapy, the patient is gradually exposed to a hierarchy of flying situations such as:
At every step of the virtual flight, the therapist can see and hear what the patient is experiencing in the virtual plane. VR therapy for fear of flying offers many advantages over standard exposure therapy approaches including decreased cost, protection of patient confidentiality, safety for patient and therapist during exposure, complete control over the virtual flight, and shorter therapy sessions.
All treatment procedures and their rationales are explained, and informed consent for treatment is obtained. Various questionnaires that help assess one's feared situations and breadth of the fears effect upon one's life are completed. This also allows progress and ultimately the success of treatment to be quantified. A clinical interview between the patient and the therapist allows a hierarchy of feared situations to be created that will help guide the exposure. Reading assignments may be expected at the end of the session.
Training in anxiety management techniques begins and continues from 1 to 3 additional sessions. There is homework and practice required between sessions.
Session 3 or 4
A comprehensive review
A comprehensive review of anxiety management techniques is undertaken. Virtual Reality Technology is added to therapy. Typically a neutral (non-threatening) environment may be experienced.
Hierarchical Virtual Reality exposure to the feared situations
The patient is placed in an immersive VR environment and in cooperation with the therapist the experience is increased to fit the individual needs of the patient.