Category: Articles

Virtual Reality Therapy for Acrophobia

If you are afraid of heights, you are certainly not alone. In fact, acrophobia, or the fear of heights, is one of the most common phobias, with one-third of the population suffering from this anxiety disorder. And while some experts claim that it is a learned response while others believe it is hereditary, none of that matters if you are the one suffering from this debilitating phobia. Those who have acrophobia may experience nausea, dizziness, vertigo (a spinning or moving sensation), rapid heartbeat, sweating, shortness of breath, and extreme fear when faced with situations involving heights.

You may go to extreme lengths to avoid heights and this is sometimes not feasible. For example, what if your work is on the 25th floor and has huge floor-length windows? Does that mean you cannot work there? Not according to Dr. Brenda K. Wiederhold, PhD, MBA, President of the Virtual Reality Medical Center (VRMC) in La Jolla, California. VRMC has been providing Virtual Reality therapy for over 2 decades and has had great success in treating many types of phobias and fears. By gradually introducing you to situations such as a glass elevator, bridges, and high buildings through virtual reality, you can be desensitized on your own terms and in your own time.

Virtual Reality Therapy for Claustrophobia

Approximately 5% of Americans have the fear of small spaces, or claustrophobia. This fear is actually a specific phobia according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5 (DSM-5).

Those who suffer from this disorder are afraid of being closed in or have a fear of not being able to get away that can cause a panic attack when getting on an elevator or an airplane. When you feel like you cannot get away if needed, have an excessive fear of being locked in, or go out of your way to avoid being in a small room or any confined space, these are some of the signs of claustrophobia.

However, this specific phobia is treatable and within a few short weeks, you can be free of the fear of small enclosed spaces. With Virtual Reality therapy, you will be gradually exposed to small spaces such as rooms without windows, hallways, tunnels, elevators, and even closets in small increments, at your own individualized pace. So the next time you’re set to visit your friend who lives on the 27th floor, maybe you will be able to take that elevator!

Virtual Reality Therapy for Arachnophobia

If you are afraid of spiders, then you are not alone. In fact, approximately 55% of women and 18% of men in the United States suffer from arachnophobia, which is the fear of spiders. Although not everyone who does not like spiders has the actual phobia, there are some symptoms to watch out for. If you freeze or run away if you see a spider, refuse to go into a room that may have a spider, and if you will not go camping, hiking, or do any other outdoor activities for fear of seeing a spider, you may have arachnophobia.

According to licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Brenda K. Wiederhold, PhD, MBA, President of the Virtual Reality Medical Center in La Jolla, California, “A phobia is a diagnosable disorder that impacts your life negatively.” But don’t worry, there are treatments that can help. Virtual Reality (VR) exposure therapyhelps the sufferer desensitize to the stimuli that causes their phobia. For example, those who have arachnophobia may be exposed to VR scenarios of spiders in a non-threatening way to gradually decrease the fear at the patient’s own individual pace.

Virtual Reality Therapy for Glossophobia

Although it seems like all of our present day business interactions can be done online, sometimes we may still find we need to give a presentation. The fear of public speaking, speech anxiety, or glossophobia, is the third most common anxiety disorder in the United States and affects more than 20 million Americans at some point. That is about 25% of the population. Whether you are a businessperson or student, homemaker or doctor, a warehouse worker or an attorney, one day you will likely need to speak in front of a large group of people.

Being a confident public speaker can help you advance your career, enhance your relationships with others, or help you to achieve a better grade in school. However, if you feel extreme fear at the thought of talking to a group or get dizzy and nauseous when you have to go on stage, you may have glossophobia and need treatment. Dr. Brenda K. Wiederhold, PhD, MBA, a licensed clinical psychologist and President of the Virtual Reality Medical Center in La Jolla, California, has been treating glossophobia and other specific phobias and anxiety disorders successfully with Virtual Reality therapy for over 2 decades. By exposing you to various public speaking scenarios in the virtual world, at your own individual pace, you can become less fearful and more self-confident in previously anxiety-provoking situations.

Internet Addiction Affects 6% of People Worldwide


Internet addiction is an impulse-control problem marked by an inability to inhibit Internet use, which can adversely affect a person’s life, including their health and interpersonal relationships. The prevalence of Internet addiction varies among regions around the world, as shown by data from more than 89,000 individuals in 31 countries analyzed for a study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, a peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers. The article is available free on the Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking website until January 18, 2015.
In the article “Internet Addiction Prevalence and Quality of (Real) Life: A Meta-Analysis of 31 Nations Across Seven World Regions,” Cecelia Cheng and Angel Yee-lam Li, The University of Hong Kong, present 164 Internet addiction prevalence figures, with an overall global prevalence estimate of 6.0%. Prevalence ranged from a low of 2.6% in Northern and Western Europe to a high of 10.9% in the Middle East. The authors describe factors associated with higher Internet addiction prevalence and how it relates to individuals’ quality of life.
“This study provides initial support for the inverse relationship between quality of life and Internet Addiction (IA). It, however, finds no support for the hypothesis that high Internet accessibility (such as the high penetration rates in northern and western Europe), promote IA,” says Editor-in-Chief Brenda K. Wiederhold, PhD, MBA, BCB, BCN, Interactive Media Institute, San Diego, California and Virtual Reality Medical Institute, Brussels, Belgium.

Use VR Handhelds in Mass Casualty Disasters

Use VR Handhelds in Mass Casualty Disasters

How can governments and health organizations effectively prepare to handle mass casualty disasters? In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and hospitals have plans in place to handle people’s physical health needs, yet the mental health needs of survivors often get too little attention, too late.

To read the full article see: Use VR Handhelds in Mass Casualty Disasters.


China Hi-tech Fair 2013

Brussels, Belgium (June 27, 2013) – The Virtual Reality Medical Institute (VRMI) attended the China Hi-Tech Fair in Belgium, an overseas session of the China High Tech Fair in Shenzhen. The China High Tech Fair in Shenzhen (CHTF) is the largest, most influential scientific and technological fair in China. Nearly 3,000 exhibitors from 50 different countries normally attend CHTF, and visitor numbers have well surpassed 500,000. Brussels Invest & Export, Belgian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce, and Agoria hosted the event, held on June 27 2013, at the Hotel Sheraton Rogier. Representatives from 28 Chinese companies and institutions, as well as many Belgian-based companies, that were looking to find trading and technological partners in Belgium, were in attendance.


Virtual Reality Medical Institute (VRMI) uses simulation technologies in three main areas: 1) treating patients with stress, anxiety, and trauma, 2) training for military medical and civilian populations, and 3) enhancing medical educational programs. A Belgian corporation established in December 2006 with affiliates in the U.S. and China, VRMI principals are world leaders in applying VR technology in combination with physiological monitoring and feedback for training, therapy, and emerging applications. We are also focused on developing a comprehensive protocol to address an array of needs for military personnel and civilian first responders as well as emerging technologies for various security and intelligence operations. Having been involved in R&D projects in Europe, Asia, and the U.S. for the past 25 years, we have won over 50 competitive government contracts and look now towards marketing the developed products and protocols.


Representing VRMI at the fair were Prof. Dr. Brenda Wiederhold, President, and Stacey Kao, who is interning at VRMI through the study abroad program with Boston University Brussels.


Dr. Wiederhold and Ms Kao at China Hi-Tech Fair 2013

Tackling Stress Head on

Virtual Reality Medical Institute (VRMI) is a Belgian SME headquartered in the Brussels Life Science Incubator on the Catholic University’s Brussels campus in Woluwe Saint-Lambert.
For the past 15 years, the company has been using simulation technologies in three main areas:
■ To treat patients with anxiety
disorders (phobias, panic and
post-traumatic stress disorder
■ To train both military and civilian
populations; and
■ To enhance educational
The virtual environments VRMI constructs uniformly elicit significant physiological arousal to replicate real-world experiences. The VRMI team attributes its strength to a cadre of highly experienced medical and psychology professionals, working in tandem with technical team members and end-users. VRMI’s development concept utilises a three-pronged approach. New concepts for products are initially discussed with clinicians and technical members of the team, which include software developers, programmers, hardware integrators and computer graphic artists. After feasibility studies are completed, the team creates prototypes and obtains informed consent and IRB approvals. Following this, these new, virtual worlds are first tested on normal controls and then on study participants. With the participants’ permission, technical team members speak to them about their impressions and thoughts on how to improve the VR software. VRMI has found that most participants are interested in communicating with both clinical and
technical members of the team. In other settings, the latter rarely receive input directly from users, so this feedback is valuable for improving the design of future environments and products to more closely match
end-user needs. Since our team includes international collaborators, we are able to create culturally sensitive VR systems designed for a more diverse group of users. VRMI serves on EU grants as both a Dissemination and Exploitation Work Package Leader and a Clinical Partner, using a combined communications platform of an annual international conference, specialised workshops, a quarterly magazine, a
scientific journal, a website information portal and a social networking site to provide information and education to interested stakeholders, whether they be policymakers, funding agents, academics or interested individual citizens.
The full article can be read here: “Tackling Stress Head On_B. Wiederhold“!

From Generation to Generation

the 17th annual International CyberPsychology and CyberTherapy Conference (CYBER17) convened in Brussels, Belgium on the 25-28th September 2012. With speechs from keynote speakers such as Robert Madelin, Director General  of  the Communications Networks, Content and Technology Directorate General (DG-CONNECT)  at  the  European  Commission (EC), stakeholders from over 20 countries were in attendance, including industry  leaders,  academics, clinicians, government funders and representatives from affiliated associations.

The aim of the conference was twofold: to inform and educate on how advanced technologies, such as virtual reality, are being used in training, therapy  and rehabilitation;  and how interactive  technologies  and social networking tools are affecting individual behaviour (both positively and negatively), as well as interpersonal relationships and society in its entirety. An interactive exhibit area, the Cyberarium, allowed participants to try first-hand the innovative technological solutions.

Last  year,  the  European  Council  endorsed the  EC’s creation of an Innovation Partnership on Healthy and Active Ageing, with the goal of adding two years of healthy life to citizens by 2020. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conduct activities helping older adults live long, productive  and independent  lives under the Healthy Ageing Programme.

While humanitarian reasons are the foundation for these programmes, the cost to society in their absence cannot be denied. As is true in Japan today, by 2030 more than 20% of the population of northern EC countries, Australia, Canada and the US will be over 65. In the US, about 80% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and such conditions can lead to the person’s inability to perform activities  of daily living (ADL) such as ‘bathing, dressing, eating, or moving around the house’.

Although information and communications technology (ICT) solutions  are only one part of the mix, a recent EC report confirmed that citizens view an ‘innovative way of care’ (a category that includes new ways to organise care, telecare and telehealth) as the most important part. Indeed, the author of a 2008 paper4 determined from a literature review and wireless technology experience that remote monitoring alone could ‘reduce healthcare expenditures by a net of $197bn (in constant 2008 dollars) over the next 25 years with adoption of policies  that reduce barriers and accelerate the use of  remote monitoring technologies’.


The full article is available here: From Generation to Generation – Dr._M.Baker_B.Wierderhold

From Clinical to Cloud

In September 2012, the 17th Annual CyberPsychology & CyberTherapy Conference (CYBER17) was held. With some of the restrictions to growth acknowledged as early as 2000, the International Association of
CyberPsychology, Training, & Rehabilitation (iACToR) community has become acutely aware of the need to transform itself to quicken the pace of progress. Suggestions made around that time period still remain and continued to be amongst the discussions at CYBER17. In 2000 perhaps these difficulties were acceptable; however, with a multitude of technological advancements, and 12 additional years of research funding, these deficiencies need no longer continue. One remaining stumbling block is the lack of interoperability: the applications and software content are available, but the infrastructure is still lacking to allow widespread deployment of these tools.
The need for an overall shift from institutional healthcare settings to everyday environments, and from treatment to a preventive approach based on new personalised healthcare technologies, is widely recognised and made available by the advancement of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). The Strategic Approach for the EU for 2008-2013 stated that ‘health is the greatest wealth’ and that ‘health is important for the wellbeing of individuals and society, but a healthy population is also a prerequisite for economic productivity and prosperity’. The strategy of European healthcare envisions innovation coupled with new technologies as the solution to these problems.
A wide variety of health promotion/disease prevention (wellness) multimedia content has been tested and validated in pilot studies and clinical trials. In addition, virtual reality content for multiple disorders ranging from obesity to posttraumatic stress disorder to cognitive and physical rehabilitation has shown clear efficacy. The development cycle for these technologies involved a migration process beginning with first designing and developing the solutions on desktop platforms, with input from end-users, clinicians and technical design staff. Once pilot studies and randomised, controlled clinical trials were performed, then the technologies were ported to more mobile platforms. Now the challenge is to move from the current mobile devices to a cloud-based solution for even easier access and more widely distributed treatment solutions.
It is critical that a platform now be put in place to deploy these tools for  sidespread use by stakeholders who may benefit from them; in some cases, these stakeholders will be individual citizens, and in other cases, healthcare providers. In order for this to occur, however,  interoperability is essential. An infrastructure must be implemented that will allow applications to work without the necessity of the patient, trainee or clinician/researcher purchasing a separate peripheral device, specific computer or software package to run each app.
As Vice President for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes said in a September 2012 interview on the EU Commission’s strategy on cloud computing, good reasons to be in the cloud include interoperability, data portability and reversibility.1 After the interoperability hurdle has been surmounted by the adoption of cloud computing, the prices of apps can come down as development costs shrink. Secure protocols for transmission of patient data in the cloud are coming online. Therefore, the primary remaining barrier to adoption will be clinician training and patient education, in which the EU has the opportunity to play an important role.
The full article can be read here: From Clinical to Cloud – Dr_B.Wiederhold