Arachnophobia is probably the most common phobias, with 3.5 to 6.1 percent of the population suffering from this debilitating fear. Doctors usually treat this phobia with exposure therapy, having the patient confront their fear head on, facing up to the spiders they are afraid of. This form of treatment has proven very effective, but as you might imagine, it is not easy finding a doctor willing to find spiders for you to confront or take you to a place safely containing these spiders. The problem with exposure therapy is that it is not the easiest treatment to find, with a lack of services available simply because being able to have patients physically confront spiders in an office is rather difficult unless the doctor is a real trooper and brings the arachnids in themselves. There are also many people that suffer from arachnophobia that are just too frightened of the idea of actually confronting a live spider to try it. This means around 60 to 80 percent of people suffering from arachnophobia do not receive any treatment.

People suffering from arachnophobia might just have another way to treat their fear of spiders very soon. In conjunction with other partners, Fraunhofer researchers are currently researching and developing a virtual reality therapy system. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering IBMT are working in collaboration with Promotion Software GmbH, Saarland University and Saarland University Medical Center to embark on what they are calling the “DigiPhobie” project. The researchers are designing a form of digital therapy that will make exposure therapy possible in domestic environments. With this new treatment, sufferers will be able to confront the spiders they are terrified of in a safe and less intimidating manner. They transferred actual exposure therapy into the digital game, with patients performing various challenges such as prodding a digital spider with their finger and other therapy tasks in virtual reality.  The virtual reality therapy system also uses wearable sensors that measure the patient’s vital signs such as heartbeat and breathing rate during the session. This will allow the doctor to better determine the intensity of their patient’s fear and even what situation they are most afraid of. Doctors will be able to then adapt the therapy sessions to the personal needs of each individual patient. This could seriously change the world of psychological therapy for other patients as well as people suffering from arachnophobia. Think of all the possibilities!

Would you be willing to try using a virtual reality game to confront your biggest fears?