They show that phobias can be treated with 360-degree video

Virtual reality and 360-degree film can be a complement to classic exposure therapy, a Swedish study shows. “Do not underestimate people’s imagination,” says researcher Anders Lundström.

Globally, 5-15 percent of the population suffers from phobias or anxiety symptoms at some point.

In so-called exposure therapy, a psychologist meets his patient at a place where the source of the phobia is, for example in the subway – but the treatment is very expensive because the psychologist needs to set aside many hours to travel to the place.

Cost-effective treatment

Now, researchers have tested the effects of instead offering the same experiences via scenarios filmed with so-called 360-degree format, with the aim of cost-effectively treating agoraphobia.

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These include riding the subway and passing through a subway. But can people with agoraphobia really experience the same kind of discomfort when it’s not for real?

– We have worked with twelve patients and all have responded well to exposure and treatment. From that perspective, the medium fulfills its purpose and offers the same result as in normal exposure, says Anders Lundström, senior lecturer in informatics at Umeå University, to Ny Teknik.

“Big plus with vr-world”

The Department of Informatics at Umeå University has looked at the technology together with Film Stockholm, KTH, KI, and Gustavsbergs Vårdcentral in a joint study. And now the result has been published in the scientific journal Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy.

Anders Lundström researches at the Department of Informatics at Umeå University. Photo: Umeå University

Several patients have expressed that it has been a big plus to be able to enter a vr world instead of reality, as it has felt far too difficult to visit the actual places. Thus, the technology also seems to be able to function as a good step towards the real environments.

– One should not underestimate people’s imagination. But the goal is of course for the patients to go out into the right environments, and our patients have succeeded in that afterwards, according to our follow-up, he says. When the study was conducted, they were the first to use 360 ​​° film for the purpose.

Can reduce treatment cost

Anders states that filmed environments offer a realistic richness of detail at low cost. In comparison, it will be incredibly expensive to recreate the environments with computer-generated graphics, and an acceptable price is a prerequisite for implementation in healthcare.

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– The 360 ​​° film is an attractive medium as the price of both VR glasses and 360 cameras is in the thousands. Since the cameras are easy to use, you can also work with a model with user-generated content, ie that psychologists or doctors could record films themselves, for example if they have a patient with special needs, says Anders Lundström.

– This is a link that is often missed with new technology, that it is the content on a platform that creates value, he continues.

Tested in nursing homes

In the study, they have worked with about 40 films, and other problem areas such as dog phobia or flight phobia may be added. Another interesting possibility is that the technology opens up for treatment at a distance, which not least makes it easier to get help in sparsely populated areas.

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The team is now in the process of productifying the platform. They have also tested using the technology for increased well-being in nursing homes, with positive results. The residents have, for example, been able to watch 360 films from Skansen, a boat trip in the archipelago and take part in a midsummer celebration.

– I think there is plenty of room for the 360 ​​° medium in medical applications. We have really only started to scratch the surface for what you can use it for, says Anders Lundström.

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