Virtual reality therapy versus cognitive behavior therapy for social phobia: a preliminary controlled study

Cyberpsychol Behav. 2005 Feb;8(1):76-88. doi: 10.1089/cpb.2005.8.76.


Social phobia is one of the most frequent mental disorders and is accessible to two forms of scientifically validated treatments: anti-depressant drugs and cognitive behavior therapies (CBT). In this last case, graded exposure to feared social situations is one of the fundamental therapeutic ingredients. Virtual reality technologies are an interesting alternative to the standard exposure in social phobia, especially since studies have shown its usefulness for the fear of public speaking. This paper reports a preliminary study in which a virtual reality therapy (VRT), based on exposure to virtual environments, was used to treat social phobia. The sample consisted of 36 participants diagnosed with social phobia assigned to either VRT or a group-CBT (control condition). The virtual environments used in the treatment recreate four situations dealing with social anxiety: performance, intimacy, scrutiny, and assertiveness. With the help of the therapist, the patient learns adapted cognitions and behaviors in order to reduce anxiety in the corresponding real situations. Both treatments lasted 12 weeks, and sessions were delivered according to a treatment manual. Results showed statistically and clinically significant improvement in both conditions. The effect-sizes comparing the efficacy of VRT to the control traditional group-CBT revealed that the differences between the two treatments are trivial.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Assertiveness
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Fear
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internet / instrumentation*
  • Male
  • Phobic Disorders / therapy*
  • User-Computer Interface*