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Free Content A Novel Treatment of Fear of Flying Using a Large Virtual Reality System

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BACKGROUND: Fear of flying (FoF), a common phobia in the developed world, is usually treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, most efficiently when combined with exposure methods, e.g., virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET). We evaluated FoF treatment using VRET in a large motion-based VR system. The treated subjects were seated on a moving platform. The virtual scenery included the interior of an aircraft and a window view to the outside world accompanied by platform movements simulating, e.g., takeoff, landing, and air turbulence. Relevant auditory stimuli were also incorporated.

CASE REPORT: Three male patients with FoF underwent a clinical interview followed by three VRETs in the presence and with the guidance of a therapist. Scores on the Flight Anxiety Situation (FAS) and Flight Anxiety Modality (FAM) questionnaires were obtained on the first and fourth visits. Anxiety levels were assessed using the subjective units of distress (SUDs) scale during the exposure. All three subjects expressed satisfaction regarding the procedure and did not skip or avoid any of its stages. Consistent improvement was seen in the SUDs throughout the VRET session and across sessions, while patients’ scores on the FAS and FAM showed inconsistent trends. Two patients participated in actual flights in the months following the treatment, bringing 12 and 16 yr of avoidance to an end.

DISCUSSION: This VR-based treatment includes critical elements for exposure of flying experience beyond visual and auditory stimuli. The current case reports suggest VRET sessions may have a meaningful impact on anxiety levels, yet additional research seems warranted.

Czerniak E, Caspi A, Litvin M, Amiaz R, Bahat Y, Baransi H, Sharon H, Noy S, Plotnik M. A novel treatment of fear of flying using a large virtual reality system. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2016; 87(4):411–416.

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Keywords: anxiety; phobia; virtual reality exposure therapy

Document Type: Case Report

Affiliations: Th e Center of Advanced Technologies in Rehabilitation, the Division of Psychiatry, and the Department of Physiotherapy Services, Sheba Medical Center, Ramat Gan, Israel

Publication date: April 1, 2016

More about this publication?
  • This journal (formerly Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine), representing the members of the Aerospace Medical Association, is published monthly for those interested in aerospace medicine and human performance. It is devoted to serving and supporting all who explore, travel, work, or live in hazardous environments ranging from beneath the sea to the outermost reaches of space. The original scientific articles in this journal provide the latest available information on investigations into such areas as changes in ambient pressure, motion sickness, increased or decreased gravitational forces, thermal stresses, vision, fatigue, circadian rhythms, psychological stress, artificial environments, predictors of success, health maintenance, human factors engineering, clinical care, and others. This journal also publishes notes on scientific news and technical items of interest to the general reader, and provides teaching material and reviews for health care professionals.

    To access volumes 74 through 85, please click here.
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