Augmented reality spider phobia app gets major update

Virtually Free, a UK-based technology start up that develops apps to improve emotional health today announces a major update of Phobia Free, its iPad/iPhone app to help with arachnophobia, the extreme fear of spiders. The company has overhauled the app by acting on user feedback. Key developments include interface improvements, new mini tutorials and a reduction in file size.

Virtually Free was founded by two practising psychiatrists and a games developer who combined their skills to adapt the therapy experience into an app format. The app uses exposure therapy, a tried and tested method for the treatment of phobia, with a few important modifications. A ‘virtual therapist’, Dr Freeman explains the therapy process and guides users through a series of high definition fully-animated and voice-acted sessions.

Phobia Free trains the user in relaxation techniques. Through a series of games, users face increasingly more realistic spiders and can share their progress over social networks. The games encourage users to help spiders out of difficult situations by gradually appealing to their empathy.

“The app showcases the fact that spiders are probably more scared of us than we are of them. The game scenarios will be familiar to anyone with a fear of spiders: finding a spider in their shoe, in the bath or even in the coffee tin,” commented co-founder, Dr Andres Fonseca.

The app culminates in an augmented reality challenge where users must rescue a realistic tarantula from a shed. To succeed, users are challenged to take a picture of the spider sitting on their hand.

Spider phobia affects 6% of the population. At its most severe it can stop people from doing certain jobs, going on vacation or even buying a house. It can also stop them from entering their attics and cellars, making it difficult to carry out everyday activities like gardening or going on a picnic. Affected people can experience a racing heart and sweaty palms. They can also breathe too quickly and feel sick and giddy.

“People tend not to seek help for spider phobia, even when it’s available. Treatment can be costly, time consuming and exhausting. Phobia Free’s games and augmented reality provide an alternative to traditional options such as seeing a therapist or reading a self-help book,” continued Fonseca.

“Feedback following our first release was extremely positive, but some users were struggling to find their way around all of its features. We’ve now fixed that,” said Dr Russell Green, another co-founder.

“Our mission is to get as many people to complete the game as possible. Our customers really struggle to face their fear, so we decided to remove as many barriers as possible. We’ve made the app smaller, faster and easier to use so even more people can use it to beat their phobia,” concluded Green.

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