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The treatment of fear of flying: a controlled study of imaginal and virtual reality graded exposure therapy

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6 Author(s)
B. K. Wiederhold ; Virtual Reality Med. Center, San Diego, CA, USA ; D. P. Jang ; R. G. Gevirtz ; S. I. Kim
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The goal of this study was to determine if virtual reality graded exposure therapy (VRGET) was equally efficacious, more efficacious, or less efficacious, than imaginal exposure therapy in the treatment of fear of flying. Thirty participants (Age=39.8±9.7) with confirmed DSM-IV diagnosis of specific phobia fear of flying were randomly assigned to one of three groups: VRGET with no physiological feedback (VRGETno), VRGET with physiological feedback (VRGETpm), or systematic desensitization with imaginal exposure therapy (IET). Eight sessions were conducted once a week. During each session, physiology was measured to give an objective measurement of improvement over the course of exposure therapy. In addition, self-report questionnaires, subjective ratings of anxiety (SUDs), and behavioral observations (included here as flying behavior before beginning treatment and at a three-month posttreatment followup) were included. In the analysis of results, the Chi-square test of behavioral observations based on a three-month posttreatment followup revealed a statistically significant difference in flying behavior between the groups [χ2(4)=19.41, p<0.001]. Only one participant (10%) who received IET, eight of the ten participants (80%) who received VRGETno, and ten out of the ten participants (100%) who received VRGETpm reported an ability to fly without medication or alcohol at three-month followup. Although this study included small sample sizes for the three groups, the results showed VRGET was more effective than IET in the treatment of flying. It also suggests that physiological feedback may add to the efficacy of VR treatment.

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IEEE Transactions on Information Technology in Biomedicine  (Volume:6 ,  Issue: 3 )