The use of VR in the treatment of panic disorders and agoraphobia

Stud Health Technol Inform. 2004;99:73-90.


Panic disorder with agoraphobia (PDA) is considered an important public health problem. The efficacy of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for PDA has been widely demonstrated. The American National Institute of Health recommended Cognitive-Behavioral programs as the treatment of choice for this disorder. This institution also recommended that researchers develop treatments whose mode of delivery increases the availability of these programs. Virtual Reality based treatments can help to achieve this goal. VR has several advantages compared with conventional techniques. One of the essential components to treat these disorders is exposure. In VR the therapist can control the feared situations at will and with a high degree of safety for the patient, as it is easier to grade the feared situations. Another advantage is that VR is more confidential because treatment takes place in the therapist's office. It is also less time consuming as it takes place in the therapist's office. Considering the wide number of situations and activities that agoraphobic patients use to avoid, VR can save time and money significantly. Another advantage in treating PDA using VR is the possibility of doing VR interoceptive. VR could be a more natural setting for interoceptive exposure than the consultation room because we can elicit bodily sensations while the patient is immerse in VR agoraphobic situations. Finally, we think that VR exposure can be a useful intermediate step for those patients who refuse in vivo exposure because the idea of facing the real agoraphobic situations is too aversive for them. In this chapter we offer the work done by our research team at the VEPSY-UPDATED project. We describe the VR program we have developed for the treatment of PDA and we summarize the efficacy and effectiveness data of a study where we compare a cognitive-behavioral program including VR for the exposure component with a standard cognitive-behavioral program including in vivo exposure and with a waiting list control condition. Our findings support the efficacy and effectiveness of VR for the treatment of PDA.

MeSH terms

  • Agoraphobia / therapy*
  • Confidentiality
  • Humans
  • Panic Disorder / therapy*
  • Spain
  • User-Computer Interface*