In the future, when you’re afraid of something, you might put on a virtual reality headset and gradually expose yourself to a simulated version of the problem. VR could make “exposure therapy” easier and cheaper, according to the Spanish entrepreneurs behind a new app and device.
The idea of using VR to combat fear of flying, needles, snakes, and other fears isn’t new. But the technology up to now has tended to be expensive and aimed at big clinics, says Xavier Palomer and Danny Roig, the creators of Psious. For example, V.A. hospitals treat PTSD with products like Virtually Better, and the machines run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Psious‘s platform is aimed more at single practitioners, and costs a fraction of that.
Therapists start by logging on to a web site, where they control a series of simulated environments on a mobile app. Patients put on headgear with a slot in the front for the phone and the therapist takes them through a scenario. For example, someone fearing airplanes would start at home, waiting for a cab to take them to the airport. The doctor sets conditions like the weather (rainy, sunny), the number people around, and delays that might heighten anxiety. She can see how the patients reacts–perhaps looking into the air or out the window.
Palomer and Roig met at the University of Barcelona where they studied physics. Roig had the idea for the app and headgear after going through treatment for flight-phobia himself.
Psious is currently trialling a late-prototype version of the technology with therapists ahead of a full launch in March 2015. The company has tested six of the scenarios with real patients, with another six simulations are ready to go.
The company plans to charge therapists $94 per month for unlimited use, or charge a smaller fee for single-use sessions. Down the road, it also hopes to develop a version doctors can administer remotely, as well as a full consumer-facing edition. “The therapist might give some homework as a next step,” Roig says. “He might say ‘practice these two more exposures and relaxation techniques before you come next time.'”
Psious won honorable mention at HitLab Summit World Cup, a contest for health startups.