Effectiveness of self-guided virtual reality-based cognitive behavioral therapy for panic disorder: Randomized controlled trial

Bokyoung Shin, Jooyoung Oh, Byung Hoon Kim, Hesun Erin Kim, Hyunji Kim, Suji Kim, Jae Jin Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Virtual reality (VR) is as effective a technique as traditional cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and a promising tool for treating panic disorder symptoms because VR exposure can be safer and has better acceptability than in vivo exposure and is more immersive than exposure through imagination. CBT techniques can be delivered more effectively using VR as well. So far, VR has required high-quality devices, but the development of mobile VR technology has improved user availability. At the same time, a well-structured form of VR can be reproduced and used anywhere. This means that VR can be used to provide a self-guided form of treatment and address the high treatment costs of evidence-based therapy and the lack of professional therapists. This study aimed to investigate the potential of self-guided VR as an alternative to high-cost treatment. Objective: The main goal of this study was to offer data about the efficacy of a mobile app-based self-led VR CBT in the treatment of panic disorder. Methods: A total of 54 subjects with panic disorder were enrolled in this study and randomly assigned to either the VR treatment group or waitlist group. The VR treatment was designed to be total 12 sessions for 4 weeks. The VR treatment consists of 4 steps in which patients are gradually exposed to phobic stimuli while learning to cope with panic symptoms in each stage. The effectiveness of treatment was assessed through the Panic Disorder Severity Scale, Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression, Body Sensations Questionnaire, Albany Panic and Phobia Questionnaire, Anxiety Sensitivity Index, State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, Korean Inventory of Social Avoidance and Distress Scale, Korean Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology, and Perceived Stress Scale. In addition, physiological changes using heart rate variability were evaluated. Results: In within-group analyses, the VR treatment group exhibited improvements in panic disorder symptoms, anxiety, and depression after 4 weeks, while the waitlist group did not show any significant improvement. Compared to the waitlist group, the VR treatment group showed significantly greater improvements in the Panic Disorder Severity Scale in both completer analysis and intention-to-treat analysis. Heart rate variability in the VR treatment group showed improvement in normalized high frequency from baseline to postassessment with no significant differences in any outcome measure between groups. Conclusions: The self-guided, mobile app-based VR intervention was effective in the treatment of panic symptoms and restoring the autonomic nervous system demonstrating the validity of the use of VR for self-guided treatment. VR treatment can be a cost-effective therapeutic approach.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere30590
JournalJMIR Mental Health
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Nov

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© 2021 JMIR Publications Inc.. All rights reserved.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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