skip to main content

Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT)

Also called virtual reality immersion therapy (VRIT), simulation for therapy (SFT), virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) or computerized CBT (CCBT)—Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT) is a type of biofeedback that uses virtual reality technology to help clients navigate stressful or anxiety-provoking situations. 

When combined with biofeedback, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and other approaches, it can address such conditions as: 

    • Specific phobias (fear of flying, cats or dogs, subways, elevators) 
    • Public speaking anxiety
    • Chronic pain reduction
    • Emotion dysregulation

In VRT, specially programmed computers and visual immersion devices generate simulated experiences that can diagnose and treat a variety of conditions. Once immersed in a digital environment and isolated from surrounding sensory inputs, the individual completes tasks tailored to treat a specific condition, while beginning to think, feel and sometimes behave as though in the real world. 

The experience of the VR headset combined with biofeedback technology measures the body’s responses and helps the individual adapt to become less fearful and less anxious. Specific treatment protocols depend on the type of anxiety, phobia or trauma. Technology can range from a simple PC and keyboard setup to a modern virtual reality headset. 

Treating anxiety, trauma and phobia

One of the most powerful treatments for anxiety, trauma and phobias is exposure therapy, which allows the brain to “unlearn” threat in response to fear or stress triggers. Repeated exposure to the triggers allows the brain to adapt toward feeling less anxiety and fear. 

Psychosocial VRT has proven effective as an alternative form to exposure therapy for treatment of phobias, especially for those individuals who have difficulty imaging (or re-creating) an anxiety-producing situation. Instead, they interact with harmless virtual representations of traumatic stimuli to reduce specific fear responses, such as fear of flying, heights, enclosed or dark spaces, black cats or public speaking. 

Read more…

Treating PTSD

Likewise, VRT has proven to be especially effective at treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), especially for individuals with a strong aversion to experiencing real situations. VRT can be performed within the privacy of a room, thus avoiding public embarrassment and violation of patient confidentiality. VRT can generate stimuli of much greater magnitude than standard in vivo techniques. 

Treating other neurological and physical conditions

VRT has shown efficacy in:

  • Helping stroke patients regain muscle control
  • Treating disorders such as body dysmorphia
  • Improving social skills for those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • Adding pain relief during burn wound dressing and other painful medical procedures
  • Treating psychosis (studies show VRT can improve symptoms of auditory verbal hallucinations and paranoia)


The subject of study for more than 20 years, VRT was originally used in the military and is increasingly applied to mental health, as well as education and athletics. Some findings:

  • A recent systematic review of psychosocial VRT shows these interventions are safe and well accepted. 
  • Since under patient control, VRT appears safer than in vivo desensitization and, at the same time, more realistic than imaginal desensitization, using visual imagery. 
  • VRT adds the advantage of greater efficiency and economy in delivering the equivalent of in vivo systematic desensitization within a safe environment. 
  • VRT historically produces a “cure” about 90% of the time at about half the cost of traditional cognitive behavior therapy (CBT).

Learn more about Mind-Body Therapies offered at CFI…



Stay in Touch