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Treating Fear of Flying Using Biofeedback and Virtual Reality Therapy

August 7, 2010

Treating Fear of Flying Using Biofeedback and Virtual Reality Therapy

Fear of flying is a growing problem, that currently affects about 25 Million Americans.

Fearful flyers can be classified into three subtypes:
Avoiders: those who avoid flying all together and experience intense anxiety at the thought of being on an airplane
“White Knuckle Flyers”, those who limit airplane travel to an absolute minimum and who fly with intense anxiety
– Mild Anxiety Flyers-those who experience anxiety at different parts of the flight experience, usually while boarding, immediately after the doors close and right before take-off

The study featured in this book compared two behavior therapy programs for the treatment of Flight Anxiety.  Both treatments used virtual reality and biofeedback therapy but in 2 different treatment models.

The study was conducted on a total of 40 participants who had a fear of flying: 20 patients were treated using the experimental model known as the “Competing Response Method” and 20 with the existing standard of treatment, known as the “Strict Exposure Method”.

Both groups received Virtual Reality (VR) as the method exposure to the stimulus and biofeedback on autonomic functioning (heart rate, breathing rate, and skin response).

“Strict Exposure Method” or the control group was treated with graded exposure, where the participants were repeatedly exposed to flight situations through use of the Virtual Reality Therapy (VR) while receiving continuous biofeedback on physiological sensations.

The experimental group was treated using a “Competing Response Method” based on systematic desensitization. With this method participants were repeatedly exposed to flight situations through Virtual Reality (VR) while engaging in relaxation techniques to counter the anxiety response. They were taught to alter their breathing through the continuous feedback provided by the biofeedback on physiological sensations (Heart rate, breathing and skin response).

Outcome measures on flight and general anxiety focusing on both thoughts and physical symptoms of anxiety revealed that while both treatment models were effective at reducing or eliminating flight anxiety, the experimental treatment (as developed by Dr. Albin) relying on the “Competing Response Method’ was significantly better.

See Dr. Jayme Albin in action working with a patient with Phobias YouTube

Dr. Jayme Albin is an expert in treating phobias using Virtual Reality, Biofeedback and other exposure methods. For more information or to inquire about scheduling an appointment please contact
212-631-1133 or DrJayme@asktheCBT.com

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 10, 2010 11:02 pm

    Wonderful way of treatment. This method is I think very exciting. Though I am a supporter of the conventional cognitive behavioral therapy because I knew some people who underwent the program who think that it was great and it helped them a great deal in becoming aware of the faulty areas of their thinking and how to change them, but I also think that this method is just great. Thanks for posting

  2. josefina Argüello permalink
    August 24, 2010 7:07 pm

    I hate flying. No, it’s not the frustrating obstacle course of shoe removal, sweeps and patdowns, oppressive crowds, interminable queues, perspiratory delays and airplane food (or lack of it) that makes every trip a challenge. (Though all of the above are worthy reasons to dread air travel.) No, for me, it’s the loss of control that accompanies my first footsteps into the claustrophobic cylinder that my fervid imagination assumes will be my coffin. For the next however-many hours, my life is out of my hands — and I can no longer find refuge in my delusion that my health and safety are 100 percent under my control.

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