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Virtual Reality Has No Value-Add For Kids’ Phobia Treatment

01 Sep

Canadian researchers from the University of Québec in Montréal looked at whether a combined treatment with mostly virtual reality-based (in virtuo) exposure increases phobic children's motivation toward therapy, as compared to children who only receive in vivo exposure. Another objective was to assess their motivation as a predictor of treatment outcome.

Thirty-one arachnophobic participants, aged from 8 to 15 years, were randomly assigned to 1 of 2 treatment conditions: in vivo exposure (graduated, real-life exposure to actual tarantulas) alone or in virtuo (virtual reality first) plus in vivo exposure.

Measures of motivation were taken at pretest and at the end of each part of the treatment; some other measures were taken at each session. The "Why Are You in Therapy?" questionnaire for children was the target measure of motivation and the main variable in the study. Outcome measures were taken at pretest, at the end of each part of the treatment, and at the 6-month follow-up. This study was conducted between September 2006 and March 2007.

The results showed that children who received in virtuo exposure did not show a higher level of motivation for their treatment than those who received in vivo exposure, but statistically significant interactions were found for both parts of the treatment. Multiple regression analysis confirmed that motivation was a significant predictor of outcome (P < .01). Participants in the combined treatment were significantly more phobic before beginning treatment, but both treatments appeared successful (P < .001).

In this study, the use of virtual reality did not increase motivation toward psychotherapy. At the end of the second part of therapy, all participants were comparably efficient in facing a live tarantula. These results bear important clinical implications concerning how to use virtual reality with children and concerning motivation of children toward therapy in general.

Citation: St-Jacques J, Bouchard S, Bélanger C. Is virtual reality effective to motivate and raise interest in phobic children toward therapy? A clinical trial study of in vivo with in virtuo versus in vivo only treatment exposure. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 2010 Jul;71 (7): pages 924-31. Epub 2010 Apr 6

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award