Michelle confronted her driving anxiety with Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy

As of 2019, Psychotrauma Expertise Centre PSYTREC offers the evidence-based treatment programme VRET developed by Moovd. Situations can be presented more realistically with VR glasses, maximising the activation of the client’s anxiety system. Something that is normally not possible without leaving the treatment room.

According to Koen Harings, psychologist at Psytrec, every client and every treatment issue is suitable for the use of VR glasses. “With exposure in trauma treatment, it is important to confront the traumatic experience and relive the experience. It is important that the anxiety is activated as much as possible. In this way we can test the anxiety expectation properly. It is also important to practise in different settings.  The VR glasses are a completely new approach for us and an extension of our current treatment programme. Because we can simulate the trauma in a realistic way, we can get inside the client’s mind much faster”. Harings sees that it also saves an enormous amount of time for treatments and treatment programmes.  “For sessions where we normally have one and a half an hour, we now achieve results in just half an hour.”

Harings: “The session I had with Michelle* at the end of last year was one of the best treatment sessions with VR. Michelle was undergoing treatment because she had been in a terrible car accident. During the accident, she was in respiratory distress. Subsequently, Michelle was afraid that when she stepped into a car again, she would suffocate. This is called an anxiety expectation; that being in a car automatically means she will suffocate and die. This client avoids driving because of this anxiety expectation. If you really believe that this expectation will come true, you can imagine that such a person will not get into a car anymore. Michelle did not dare to get into a car, which of course limits her in her daily life…”.

Years of trauma remedied in one session

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In the VRET Moovd app, there are several scenarios that enable a client to virtually drive a car. There are different degrees of experience: from a quiet road, to entering a busy highway between trucks. “During a session, we used the VR glasses to show a video so that Michelle could virtually drive a car. At the same time I let Michelle hold her breath to increase the tension even more (to make the situation more life-like because at the time of the trauma she was in distress of breath). Then the fear expectation could be immediately negated; namely that she would not be suffocated when she got behind the wheel again. Then the fear expectation could be immediately negated; namely that she would not be suffocated when she got behind the wheel of the car again. The tension was completely gone and Michelle felt the courage again to actually get into a car. Because of the life-like situation with the VR glasses, we were able to end the session after just 10 minutes because the anxiety was completely negated.”

* For privacy reasons, Michelle’s name is fictitious.

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