Skip to main content
Move the World.

Virtual reality: the immersive technology that has the power to take you to the beach, walk you down a nature trail, place you in the middle of shockingly realistic airplane turbulence, set you on top of a skyscraper, or surround you with snakes.

While some items on this list are certainly more pleasant, the others can still be quite beneficial for your health. These seemingly odd applications are being used for virtual reality exposure therapy. And this cutting-edge technology, designed by a company called Limbix, is on-track to receiving FDA approval for the treatment of a variety of anxiety disorders. 

What Is Exposure Therapy and How Does It Work?

Exposure therapy is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy, an active approach to psychotherapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy seeks to help patients identify negative or inaccurate thoughts, which occur in reaction to a variety of stimuli, in order to replace them with healthier responses.

During cognitive behavioral therapy sessions, patients work with a trained therapist, where they learn to identify unwanted or challenging behaviors and their stimuli. In order to reduce an unwanted anxiety or fear response, patients are provided with a variety of strategies for changing how they respond. They're also given the opportunity to practice these strategies with their therapist in a safe, supportive environment.

Exposure therapy is a potent type of cognitive behavioral therapy. It's used to treat a variety of anxiety disorders, especially phobias, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Exposure therapy gradually exposes patients to their triggers, while under the guidance, supervision, and protection of a licensed therapist.

Virtual reality therapy is a type of exposure therapy that specifically uses VR technology to treat patients. Over 300 peer-reviewed studies have shown the positive applications of VR technology in exposure therapy.

VR exposure therapy visually exposes patients to their triggers, while under the supervision of a licensed therapist.

Using VR technology greatly expands a therapist's capabilities of treating any number of disorders. Whether a patient fears driving, needles, flying, or experiences PTSD due to a past traumatic event, VR technology allows a therapist to use exposure therapy in-office. 

The Kit That's Integrating Virtual Reality in Medicine

A variety of direct-to-consumer exposure therapy apps are available for download in today's online marketplace. But using them without the direction and supervision of a licensed therapist is not advisable, as two essential components to successful exposure therapy - the controlled environment and professional guidance - are not included.

As a result, individuals who attempt exposure therapy without a licensed therapist run the risk of worsening their anxiety disorders. Limbix hopes to improve patient access to cost-effective technology by focusing instead on marketing to healthcare providers.

limbix virtual reality therapy kit

The Limbix kit allows mental health professionals to effectively facilitate exposure therapy for patients in-office.

A complete Limbix VR kit, intended for clinical settings, enables licensed therapists to offer their patients effective, supervised virtual reality exposure therapy from the comfort of the clinic, office, or even the patient's home.

The VR Kit includes a headset (designed to be disinfectant-safe for multiple patient use), control tablet, scientifically designed therapeutic content, and a docking station. 

Inside A Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy Session

At the start of a typical VR session, the therapist will select a virtual reality therapy program that's been designed to address the patient's specific mental health disorder.

During virtual reality exposure therapy, patients work with therapists to determine a range of anxiety-inducing situations. For example, a patient with an extreme fear of driving might be asked to rate certain situations (such as driving on a backroad, in heavy traffic, in rain, or at night) on a scale from "scariest" to "least frightening."

Patients who fear certain locations due to place-specific traumatic experiences might be asked to rate a variety of places, using Google Street View integrated with virtual reality.

Using the VR headset, the patient will then gradually be exposed to increasingly intense experiences. In the case of a patient who fears driving, the virtual reality experience will begin with an easy trip, perhaps a quick commute on a quiet road.

virtual reality exposure therapy

Using the VR headset, the patient will gradually be exposed to increasingly intense experiences.

The intensity of these VR experiences will then gradually increase, as the patient's response improves. Eventually, patients will be able to respond calmly to the most intense virtual reality experiences, like driving in heavy traffic at high speeds, while it's raining or in the dark.

Throughout this entire process, the patient's therapist is nearby, simultaneously watching and controlling what the patient sees via a connected tablet. While the patient moves through the virtual reality programs, the therapist will observe the patient's response and provide strategies for correcting undesirable reactions. 

Introducing FDA-Approved Prescription Digital Therapeutics

Virtual reality exposure therapy falls under a new category in the FDA - prescription digital therapeutics - which is a part of the Administration's program to expand the scope of digital health. Provided enough research, development, and clinical trials, specific VR exposure therapy programs can now receive a seal of approval from the FDA.

Limbix hopes to improve access to VR treatments and reduce patients' reliance on medications.

In an effort to obtain FDA approval on a variety of virtual therapy programs, Limbix is currently partnered with a list of robust research institutions, such as Mayo Clinic, UCLA, TrialSpark, USC, Palo Alto University, and others.

Together, Limbix and their partners are working on development and trials for VR exposure therapy programs that are designed to treat mental health concerns like adolescent depression, adolescent social anxiety disorder, alcohol use disorder, chronic pain, major depressive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety.

Limbix hopes to improve access to these cost-effective treatments, reduce reliance on medications which cause unpleasant side effects, and help as many patients as possible to live their best life.

For more interesting news about the people and ideas that are changing our world, subscribe to Freethink.

Up Next

This week in ideas: How VR changes our dreams, a stem cell miracle, and the shoes...
This week in ideas: How VR changes our dreams, a stem cell miracle, and the shoes of the future
This week in ideas: How VR changes our dreams, a stem cell miracle, and the shoes...
Virtual reality users experience more lucid dreams, a paralyzed man gets movement back, and self-lacing shoes....
By Mike Riggs

Virtual reality users experience more lucid dreams, a paralyzed man gets movement back, and self-lacing shoes. These are our favorite stories this week.

Virtual Reality
For the Disabled, Using Virtual Reality for Education Opens Up New Possibilities
For the Disabled, Using Virtual Reality for Education Opens Up New Possibilities
Virtual Reality
For the Disabled, Using Virtual Reality for Education Opens Up New Possibilities
His daughter couldn’t go on school field trips with her classmates, so Craig Chaytor designed a virtual reality...

His daughter couldn’t go on school field trips with her classmates, so Craig Chaytor designed a virtual reality adventure just for her.

Drones
Amazon Drone Delivery Gets Approval to Launch from FAA
Drone Delivery
Drones
Amazon Drone Delivery Gets Approval to Launch from FAA
Prime Air, Amazon’s drone delivery service, has secured a key FAA certification, clearing it for the next phase of testing in the U.S.

Prime Air, Amazon’s drone delivery service, has secured a key FAA certification, clearing it for the next phase of testing in the U.S.

Future of Medicine
Prescription Video Games for Kids with ADHD Could Be on the Horizon
video games and adhd
Future of Medicine
Prescription Video Games for Kids with ADHD Could Be on the Horizon
With its FDA approval, EndeavorRx may mark the beginning of prescription video games for kids with ADHD and other mental health disorders.

With its FDA approval, EndeavorRx may mark the beginning of prescription video games for kids with ADHD and other mental health disorders.

Superhuman
Hunting Down His Son’s Killer
Hunting Down His Son’s Killer
Watch Now
Superhuman
Hunting Down His Son’s Killer
For years, there was no diagnosis, no treatment, and no cure — because his son's disease had never been seen before. That wasn't going to stop this dad.
Watch Now

What do you do when there are no experts to turn to? For computer scientist Matt Might, the answer was obvious: you become the expert. When doctors couldn't figure out his son's disease, he found a way to crack the code. Matt's son, Bertrand, suffers from an extremely rare genetic disease, called NGLY1 deficiency, which causes chronic seizures, liver problems, and developmental delays. In fact, it was so rare that Bertrand...

Could Growing Vaccines in Plants Save Lives?
Could Growing Vaccines in Plants Save Lives?
Watch Now
Could Growing Vaccines in Plants Save Lives?
Vaccines for influenza, polio, smallpox, even Ebola have all be grown … in plants.
Watch Now

This flu season has been nasty in large part because the vaccine didn’t work as well as past versions. So scientists like Professor George Lomonossoff of the John Innes Centre are on the hunt for new ways to make better vaccines and think they might have found one -- by growing them in plants.

Aflac
The Robot Duck Helping Kids With Cancer
The Robot Duck Helping Kids With Cancer
Watch Now
Aflac
The Robot Duck Helping Kids With Cancer
Nation of Artists and Freethink are proud to partner with Aflac, Sproutel and Carol Cone On Purpose for the launch...
Watch Now

Nation of Artists and Freethink are proud to partner with Aflac, Sproutel and Carol Cone On Purpose for the launch of My Special Aflac Duck, a social robot designed to bring comfort and joy to kids with cancer, and already the winner of the Tech for a Better World Innovation Award at CES 2018, Engadget’s official Best of CES Awards for Best Unexpected Product, and the CES Showstoppers Award for Best Robotics.

Superhuman
The Real Bionic Man
The Real Bionic Man
Watch Now
Superhuman
The Real Bionic Man
After losing part of his arm to cancer, Johnny now has one of the world's most advanced prosthetics.
Watch Now

After losing part of his arm to cancer, doctors outfit Johnny, a self-described “hillbilly” from West Virginia, with one of the world’s most advanced robotic arms. Johnny is able to control his new arm with his mind, giving him a level of motor control impossible until now. Get More Stories of Innovation ...

Superhuman
Superhuman Trailer
Superhuman Trailer
Watch Now
Superhuman
Superhuman Trailer
Join us as we meet the innovators building our superhuman future.
Watch Now

Superhuman is a Freethink original series about the amazing advances in medical innovation that are making the present look more like a sci-fi depiction of the future. Join us as we meet the engineers, entrepreneurs, doctors and patients who are giving people a new lease on life today, while building our superhuman future of tomorrow.