How to use virtual reality to destroy fears and phobias
Tim's life had been getting pretty difficult recently. He loved working in London, but the commute to his job in the City was taking him longer and longer.
‘I can only do one stop at a time now’ he told me. ‘It would be funny if it wasn't such a massive problem. It takes me nearly an hour on the tube to do a journey that only used to take fifteen minutes.’
‘What actually happens when you travel on the underground?’ I asked Tim.
‘I feel absolutely petrified’ said Tim. ‘I start sweating and shaking and looking at the doors. I can't wait to get to the next station and jump out.’
‘What are you thinking while this is going on?’ I asked.
‘I think the big problem is I’ve become worried about terrorism’ said Tim. It’s crept up on me. It never used to be a problem but there's been more and more on the news about people with backpacks. If there’s someone in the carriage now wearing one, or carrying a bag, I just start to assume the worst and I want to get away as fast as I can.
Do you think you can help me? I’m going to have to get another job at this rate!’
I was confident I could help Tim sort this out, and quite quickly too. We would just have to use a bit of ‘virtual reality’ to rewire his brain.
Virtual reality found to cure paranoia
Virtual reality has been in the news recently.
King's College London has developed a program which simulates a journey on London Underground in which a person is encouraged to interact with ‘avatar’ travellers.
In the experiment, 30 volunteers experienced virtual reality simulations, one in a lift and another on an underground train, where they encountered increasing numbers of ‘virtual’ commuters.
The research team, led by Professor Daniel Freeman from the University's Department of Psychiatry found the group of participants encouraged to interact with fellow travellers in virtual reality showed significant reductions in paranoid thoughts. More than half of the group who had been previously identified with paranoid delusions no longer had the problem by the end of the day of testing.
Professor Freeman observed that just a thirty minute session using the right psychological techniques helped people ‘re-learn’ that being around people was safe, and saw their paranoia begin to 'melt away'.
Your very own reality generator
The truth is, you do not need expensive virtual reality equipment to reproduce the excellent and inspiring results from King’s College, because we all have our own reality generator: the human imagination.
The resolution for Tim's problem was really quite straight forward. I simply encouraged him to close his eyes, relax and breathe all his stress away whilst imagining travelling comfortably on the journey which previously had caused him such a problem.
How and why did this help?
This kind of positive mental rehearsal ‘re-encodes’ the experience in the human brain. The powerful combination of relaxation plus visualisation stimulates alpha and theta brain-waves, accessing the ‘sweet spot’ for neuro-plastic change.
In this way, the ghosts of the past and spectres of the future can all be exorcised by a simple mechanism which encourages use of the imagination to help, rather than harm, and which re-wires a previous negatively-conditioned response.
The exercise worked its magic for Tim and he was finally able to travel comfortably on the underground again which proved you can change your mind by changing your thoughts….
and no expensive equipment is required!