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Virtual Reality Helping Cope with Covid Needle Phobia

A New Zealand virtual reality smartphone app is set to undergo clinical trials to show if it can help people overcome their fears and anxiety.

The three month trial, involving researchers from the University of Otago, Christchurch campus will use oVRcome to treat phobias relating to flying, needles, dogs or spiders in the first instance.

oVRcome was developed by Adam Hutchinson, who previously created CamperMate, a free travel app bought in 2015 by the world's largest campervan rental company, Tourism Holdings.

The oVRcome app is paired with a virtual reality (VR) headset that immerses participants in virtual environments, drawing on the principles of exposure therapy allowing them to be exposed to phobias without placing them in danger

"This builds on our research into talking treatments for mental distress and we hope to see this use of technology increase access to effective treatments for people across New Zealand," said Dr Cameron Lacey, Senior Lecturer for the Department of Psychological Medicine in a statement.

Hutchinson said he was inspired to develop oVRcome after becoming increasingly alarmed by mental health statistics.

"This presents an opportunity to really address those mental health statistics and provide more accessible support to those in need," he said.

"Whilst there are an increasing number of mental health apps available, many have not undergone clinical trials.

"We’re looking forward to working with the experienced team at the University of Otago and exploring the true potential of oVRcome to make treatment more accessible and affordable for more people."

Researchers are currently looking for 100 people over the age of 18 to take part in the three month trial via smartphone. Those who want to participate can register their interest on the oVRcome website.

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