Virtual reality is a method for exposing phobic drivers to the situations they fear under controlled, interactive and safe conditions. The paper described below explains how virtual reality is used in the treatment of a range of phobias and provides a good background before tackling the more detailed experimental papers relating to the use of virtual reality in treating driving phobia (such as Ward & Taylor, 2000). Free full text of this review article is available online.
TITLE: Virtual reality in anxiety disorders: the past and present
AUTHOR: Gorini, A & Riva, G
JOURNAL: Expert Reviews of Neurotherapeutics, 2008, 8, 215-33.
ABSTRACT: "One of the most effective treatments of anxiety is exposure therapy: a person is exposed to specific feared situations or objects that trigger anxiety. This exposure process may be done through actual exposure, with visualization, by imagination or using virtual reality (VR), that provides users with computer simulated environments with and within which they can interact. VR is made possible by the capability of computers to synthesize a 3D graphical environment from numerical data. Furthermore, because input devices sense the subject's reactions and motions, the computer can modify the synthetic environment accordingly, creating the illusion of interacting with, and thus being immersed within the environment. Starting from 1995, different experimental studies have been conducted in order to investigate the effect of VR exposure in the treatment of subclinical fears and anxiety disorders. This review will discuss their outcome and provide guidelines for the use of VR exposure for the treatment of anxious patients." [PUBMED abstract, Full Text pdf]
SUMMARY/TAKE HOME MESSAGE:
This article provides a good overview of the theoretical purpose of virtual reality treatemnt for phobias, the equipment and procedures used, and research to date. There is relatively breif coverage of driving phobia, specifically:
"Driving phobia, defined as a specific phobia, situational type in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-IV, is characterized by intense and persistent fear of driving, which increases as a person anticipates or is exposed to driving stimuli. People with driving phobia acknowledge that their fears are excessive or unreasonable, yet are unable to drive, or tolerate driving with considerable distress. The inability to drive results in a major loss of mobility and independence, which interferes with daily activities.
Currently, the only three studies we have found in literature suggest that VRET may be a quite promising intervention for treating driving phobia, but obviously, more controlled trials and follow-up evaluations are necessary to support these preliminary findings" (p218).
The studies referred to are:
* Wald J. Efficacy of virtual reality exposure therapy for driving phobia: a multiple
baseline across-subjects design. Behav. Ther. 35, 621–635 (2004).
* Wald J, Taylor S. Efficacy of virtual reality exposure therapy to treat driving phobia: a case report. J. Behav. Ther. Exp. Psychiatry 31(3–4), 249–257 (2000).
* Walshe DG, Lewis EJ, Kim SI, O’Sullivan K, Wiederhold BK. Exploring the use of computer games and virtual reality in exposure therapy for fear of driving following a motor vehicle accident. Cyberpsychol. Behav. 6(3), 329–334 (2003).