ERASING FEAR Confronting phobias, post-traumatic stress and other mental disorders may become possible for more people as virtual reality therapy goes mainstream.
Edwin adjusted his headset and gripped the game controller in both hands. He swallowed hard. The man had good reason to be nervous. He was about to enter a virtual environment tailor-made to get his heart pumping way more than any action-packed video game: a coffee shop full of people.
Determined to overcome his persistent fear that other people want to hurt him, Edwin had enrolled in a study of a new virtual reality therapy. The research aimed to help people with paranoia become more comfortable in public places. In this program, described in March in the Lancet Psychiatry, Edwin could visit a store or board a crowded bus.
Virtual strangers can be scary, just like real people. Edwin, who had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, often found simple errands like grocery shopping overwhelming and exhausting.
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