What would we do without apps? Now you can conquer your fear of spiders through an app called Phobia Free, which aims to eliminate anxiety.
Phobia Free was developed by Dr. Russell Green, a British psychiatrist who himself has tried to overcome arachnophobia, or a crippling fear of spiders and other arachnids like scorpions. The first animated spiders you encounter in the game are unusually cute — wearing yellow hats, they smile at you benignly — but as you progress, the spiders slowly grow more realistic. Eventually, you must face a real-looking tarantula, and through virtual augmentation can even “hold” it in your hand to help you overcome that creepy feeling. The app uses a method called systematic desensitization, which slowly exposes users to the object of their phobia.
Various other apps aim to decrease anxiety, even if it’s not phobias. Certain apps focus on helping people to breathe deeply when they have panic attacks, and to avoid hyperventilating. Psychologist Phil Topham, a research fellow at the University of Western England, told the BBC that phones are a good form of “self-help” even if the person suffering from anxiety isn’t seeing a therapist. “People get very attached to their phones and their tablets,” Topham said. “There’s quite a lot of shame attached to anxiety, in not being able to cope.”
However, other psychologists believe that human interaction, and in-person therapy sessions, are essential to anxieties and phobias. “Therapy is about human relationships,” analytical psychologist Elizabeth Gray told the BBC. “I think in every therapist’s view that’s what cures. Apps are not a substitute for human relationships.”
But when an friendly-looking animated psychiatrist is telling you to close your eyes and release tension from your body (while he's lying on a couch in the middle of a green field, listening to birds chirping) it isn't hard to see that you might be able to find some relaxation through your tiny phone window. In some ways, it's like having a psychiatrist in your pocket. “We are hoping to get that magic bit of motivation that you get from games, where people will play them for hours and hours, and use that to get people to complete their treatment,” Dr. Andres Fonseca, co-founder of Phobia Free, told the BBC.