A randomised wait-list controlled pilot trial of one-session virtual reality exposure therapy for blood-injection-injury phobias
Journal of affective disorders. 2020;276:636-645
Virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) has been recognized as an effective treatment for specific phobias and has the potential to overcome the limitations of traditional in vivo exposure therapy (e.g., acceptability). No past research has evaluated the efficacy of VRET for the treatment of blood-injection-injury (BII) phobia. Therefore, we conducted a randomized controlled trial to examine the acceptability and efficacy of a single-session VRET intervention for BII phobias. Participants who met DSM-5 criteria for BII phobia (N = 43) were randomized to VRET or a waiting list control group, and completed self-report measures of BII severity (Medical Fear Survey [MFS] and Multidimensional Blood Phobia Inventory [MBPI]) and dental anxiety (Modified Dental Anxiety Scale), as well as clinician ratings of BII phobia severity and catastrophic cognitions at baseline, one-week post-treatment, and 3-month follow-up. We found medium to large differences in catastrophic cognitions (probability [g = 0.88] and cost [g = 0.66] ratings), favouring VRET. We found moderate to large differences favouring VRET on the MBPI Injection and Injury fears subscales (g's=0.64-1.14) at one-week post-treatment and 3-month follow-up, and on the MBPI Fainting subscale (g = 0.84) and Injections subscale of the Medical Fear Survey (g = 0.63) at follow-up. There were no other significant group differences. These findings provided some initial evidence to suggest that a single-session VRET may provide some improvements in fears of injections, injury, and fainting. While it may be a useful adjunct or interim step before in vivo exposure therapy, it is not sufficient as a standalone treatment for BII phobia.