Afraid of heights, flying, spiders? A new virtual reality-based app might be able to help you.

According to the American Psychological Association, a phobia is a form of anxiety disorder that’s defined by a “persistent and irrational fear of a specific situation, object, or activity.”

Present in about 12.5% of adults in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, some of the more common ones include acrophobia (fear of heights), arachnophobia (fear of spiders) and aviophobia (fear of flying).

These phobias can be challenging to treat. Often, exposure therapy is the first line of treatment for specific phobias, as it exposes the person to their fear in a safe environment. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to access, and is associated with high dropout rates.

Now, a new study from the University of Otago in New Zealand has found an app named oVRcome, which is based on virtual reality (VR), and can be used to treat specific phobias.

Recently published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, the study findings revealed the self-guided VR system reduced the symptom severity of five specific kinds of phobias.

One hundred and twenty-six adults living in New Zealand took part in a randomized controlled trial that lasted for six weeks. All these adults had one of the five phobias mentioned:

  • Fear of flying
  • Fear of spiders
  • Fear of dogs
  • Fear of heights
  • Fear of needles

These people were then given access to a smartphone and the internet to use oVRcome.

After the trials, the researchers found a significant improvement in symptoms in the people who used the app. The average severity score decreased from 28/40 (moderate to severe symptoms) to 7/40 (minimal symptoms) after the trial.

“The improvements they reported suggest there’s great potential for the use of VR and mobile phone apps as a means of self-guided treatment for people struggling with often-crippling phobias,” said Dr. Cameron Lacey, one of the study authors.

Currently, oVRcome is now available to help with 10 specific phobias, as well as social anxiety. People who want to use the app are required to pay a monthly subscription fee.