Psychol Med. 2022 Nov 25:1-10. doi: 10.1017/S0033291722003531. Online ahead of print.
BACKGROUND: Access to evidence-based psychological treatment is a challenge worldwide. We assessed the effectiveness of a fully automated aviophobia smartphone app treatment delivered in combination with a $5 virtual reality (VR) viewer.
METHODS: In total, 153 participants from the Dutch general population with aviophobia symptoms and smartphone access were randomized in a single-blind randomized controlled trial to either an automated VR cognitive behavior therapy (VR-CBT) app treatment condition (n = 77) or a wait-list control condition (n = 76). The VR-CBT app was delivered over a 6-week period in the participants’ natural environment. Online self-report assessments were completed at baseline, post-treatment, at 3-month and at 12-month follow-up. The primary outcome measure was the Flight Anxiety Situations Questionnaire (FAS). Analyses were based on intent-to-treat.
RESULTS: A significant reduction of aviophobia symptoms at post-test for the VR-CBT app compared with the control condition [p < 0.001; d = 0. 98 (95% CI 0.65-1.32)] was demonstrated. The dropout rate was 21%. Results were maintained at 3-month follow-up [within-group d = 1.14 (95% CI 0.46-1.81)] and at 12-month follow-up [within-group d = 1.12 (95% CI 0.46-1.79)]. Six participants reported adverse effects of cyber sickness symptoms.
CONCLUSIONS: This study is the first to show that fully automated mobile VR-CBT therapy delivered in a natural setting can maintain long-term effectiveness in reducing aviophobia symptoms. In doing so, it offers an accessible and scalable evidence-based treatment solution that can be applied globally at a fraction of the cost of current treatment alternatives.