The following article is part of conference coverage from the 2018 American Psychiatric Association (APA) Annual Meeting in New York, New York. Psychiatry Advisor’s staff will be reporting breaking news associated with research conducted by leading experts in psychiatry. Check back for the latest news from APA 2018.

NEW YORK — A virtual reality therapy effectively mitigated symptoms in patients with agoraphobia, according to data from a study presented at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, held May 5-9 in New York City.

Maria Isabel Vasquez Suyo, MD, of Arzobispo Loayza National Hospital in Lima, Peru, and her team investigated the alleviation of agoraphobia symptoms through the use of the PsiousToolsuite, a virtual reality platform that features various augmented reality environments and 360º videos. The study included 15 outpatients who had been diagnosed with agoraphobia, which measured electrodermal response, subjective levels of stress, and cybersickness — a kind of motion sickness that is an adverse event associated with virtual reality therapy.

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Over the course of 5 sessions, all participants saw a ≥50% improvement on the Subjective Units of Distress Scale, with 6 patients reporting an improvement of more than 7550%. 

Two patients reported side effects; 1 cybersickness and 1 headache.

While the interpretability of these findings is limited by the small participant pool, the study was among the first of its kind in Peru, Vasquez Suyo explained. She expressed her hopes for continued research on virtual reality therapies in Peru, as their findings corresponded to those from other studies around the world.

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Previous research has hinted at the potential of virtual reality as a treatment for anxiety, both clinically and logistically, as no medication is involved and the equipment is portable. Currently, some virtual reality systems require expensive headsets and peripheral equipment, plus relatively large rooms to accommodate their use. But the development of effective implementation could make virtual reality a serious, accessible therapy for individuals with specific phobias and other anxiety disorders.

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Vasquez Suyo, M. Agoraphobia treatment with virtual reality in a general hospital outpatients. Presented at: 2018 American Psychiatric Association (APA) Annual Meeting; New York, New York; May 5-9. Poster 21.