I just finished reading a great article, “Virtual Healing for the Real World: Cybertherapy, an emerging field, aims to influence behavior through simulations,” in the New York Times, Tuesday November 23, 2010 (Link Here). High technology is aptly collaborating with Cognitive Behavioral therapy techniques to provide new ways for patients to do exposure treatments! Exposure to feared situations is the single most important and potent therapeutic component of successful treatment of all of the anxiety disorders. One of the fun aspects of my job is to find various ways to provide patients with the specific exposure situations they need to habituate to the situations that trigger their fears(anxieties). In my practice I have to get very creative. In addition to gradually exposing patients to the actual situations that trigger fears, I use YouTube films, photos from the Internet, movies, imaginal exposure, contrived exposures including
role-plays with me or significant others or combinations therein, and carefully crafted written and then audio-taped scripts of people’s fears (especially useful when fears of having certain thoughts are the focus). I would welcome access to a cyber library of exposure situations. My clinical hunch is that the cyber exposures are most successfully viewed as stepping stones to in vivo exposures. In other words, in most cases cyber exposure would not take the place of real life exposure, but would make that real situation exposure that much less scary when the patient was ready to face it. Let’s see what the outcome research says! Regardless, there are not nearly enough trained CBT professionals to help the 30% of the population who suffers from an anxiety disorder. Cyber exposures could be very valuable!