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Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET) for Anxiety Due to Fear of COVID-19 Infection: A Case Series

Authors Zhang W, Paudel D, Shi R, Liang J, Liu J, Zeng X, Zhou Y, Zhang B

Received 12 August 2020

Accepted for publication 19 October 2020

Published 6 November 2020 Volume 2020:16 Pages 2669—2675

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S276203

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 4

Editor who approved publication: Dr Jun Chen


Wanling Zhang,1,2,* Dhirendra Paudel,2,3,* Rui Shi,1 Jie Liang,1 Jingwen Liu,1 Xiansheng Zeng,1 Yunfei Zhou,1 Bin Zhang2,4

1Shenzhen Mental Health Center, Shenzhen Kangning Hospital, Shenzhen 518118, People’s Republic of China; 2Center for Brain Science and Brain-Inspired Intelligence, Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, Southern Medical University, Guangzhou, 510515, People’s Republic of China; 3Department of Psychiatry, Dhaulagiri Hospital, Baglung 33300, Gandaki, Nepal; 4Department of Psychiatry, Nanfang Hospital, Southern Medical University, Guangzhou 510515, People’s Republic of China

*These authors contributed equally to this work

Correspondence: Bin Zhang
Department of Psychiatry, Nanfang Hospital, Southern Medical University, Guangzhou 510515, People’s Republic of China
Tel +86-20-62786731
Email zhang73bin@hotmail.com
Yunfei Zhou
Shenzhen Mental Health Center, Shenzhen Kangning Hospital, Shenzhen 518118, People’s Republic of China
Tel +86-755-25615965
Email drzyf2007@163.com

Abstract: Virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) is becoming popular for treating phobia and anxiety disorder. The recent pandemic of COVID-19 not only causes infection per se but also has an impact on mental health. This case series aimed to explore the role of VRET in the intervention of psychiatric illnesses with chief complaints of fear of COVID-19 infection. In vivo exposure therapy for fear of COVID-19 infection is not possible due to the risk of virus infection; in this scenario, the VRET provides an immersive experience and can act as adjunctive therapy for treating phobias and anxiety disorders arising due to novel coronavirus pandemic. Clinical presentation and findings as well as management and procedures of VRET are discussed. Medical record of three patients (two male and one female) at the Shenzhen Mental Health Center (Shenzhen Kangning Hospital), China, was included in the present case series. Patients were assessed with the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale and Fear of COVID-19 Scale to measure anxiety and fear, respectively. Throughout VRET sessions, we gradually and systematically exposed the patient to virtual COVID-19 scenarios (for example, touching stained door handle which may have viruses, watching pandemic news, watching frontline health care workers, etc.). In our study, VRET intervention significantly reduced the related symptoms caused by fear of COVID-19 infection. Furthermore, virtual reality can provide relevant theoretical and practical support for exploring the remote psychological counseling of patients in isolation wards.

Keywords: VRET, COVID-19, phobia, telemedicine, telehealth, exposure therapy

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