This study used an open clinical trial to test a cognitive-behavioral treatment for public-speaking anxiety that utilized virtual reality as a tool for exposure therapy. Treatment was completed by participants (n = 10) meeting the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-IV criteria for social phobia, or panic disorder with agoraphobia in which public speaking was the predominantly feared stimulus. Treatment was conducted by a licensed psychologist in an outpatient clinic. Treatment consisted of eight individual therapy sessions, including four sessions of anxiety management training and four sessions of exposure therapy using a virtual audience, according to a standardized treatment manual. Participants completed standardized self-report questionnaires assessing public-speaking anxiety at pre-treatment, post-treatment, and 3-month follow-up. Participants were asked to give a speech to an actual audience at pre- and post-treatment. Results showed decreases on all self-report measures of public-speaking anxiety from pre- to post-treatment, which were maintained at follow-up (n = 8; all P = 05). Participants were no more likely to complete a speech post-treatment than at pre-treatment. This study provides preliminary evidence that a cognitive-behavioral treatment using virtual reality for exposure to public speaking may reduce public-speaking anxiety and suggests that further research with a controlled design is needed.
Copyright 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.