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Treating arachnophobia, or the extreme fear of spiders, has historically been difficult. The most common treatment is exposure therapy, in which patients are guided through therapeutic exposure to gradually break down the phobia — in this case, spiders. Problem is, arachnophobes are too petrified to face a real spider even in a controlled setting.
But now, a Switzerland-based team has released a mobile app that simulates exposure therapy through augmented reality. So far, they’ve found people are more willing to try this virtual form, knowing the spider isn’t real. The app presents patients with real life versions of their fears through nine levels, each getting you closer and closer to the “spider.”
Still, some users complain the spider looks too real for them to handle, which is why the app provides a free test to allow users to first see if they can handle the therapy. The team also recommends that anyone with an extreme fear should only use the app under professional supervision. Overall, the trial study of 66 participants showed that those who used the app were less fearful and less disgusted by spiders by the end.
Overall, mental health experts are hopeful that such virtual solutions can help fill the growing need for care. In the U.S., the shortage of mental health professionals leaves just 30 psychologists and 15.6 psychiatrists per 100,000 people. Rural counties are the most underserved, but the augmented reality format allows for more equitable access to care.
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Want to try the app for yourself? It can be downloaded on both the Apple and Google Play stores.
- Science Daily (Where we found this story) 2 weeks old | 8 minutes long
- GoodTherapy Shortage of mental health professionals 1 year old | 3 minutes long
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This A/R is creeping it too real.
Art Credit: Joan G. Stark