The Therapeutic Lamp

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Introducing the Latest Technology to Help Overcome Your Phobias

Are you one of the 5% of the population who suffers from animal phobias? Do you detest the sight of a spider or cockroach? A new technology, the therapeutic lamp, could help you overcome your fears.

A phobia, from the Greek word phobos meaning fear, is a persistent, irrational fear of a situation or item that is out of proportion to the actual danger posed. Traditionally, therapists have attempted to help phobia sufferers through controlled exposure to the threatening object, taking a person with a fear of heights up a tall building, for example, gradually increasing the height as the fear recedes.

But animal phobias are quite difficult to treat with these methods, the time involved makes the treatment cost ineffective and using live animals brings a degree of uncertainty to the situation. To overcome these problems, therapists initially turned to virtual reality (VR) techniques, using computer generated simulations displayed on head mounted sets to help sufferers acclimatise to perceived threats.

However even VR techniques have drawbacks; notably, interaction between the patient and the therapist is restricted while using headsets. The new technology using the therapeutic lamp allows for a much greater relationship between the two, decreasing the patient’s awareness of the technology being used.

So what is the therapeutic lamp and how is it being used to help alleviate phobia sufferers?

The basic technology involves a camera similar to that used in Kinect type computer games to detect and track movements made by the patient’s hands and display them on a screen. In the initial trial versions of the system, other objects are included including a coffee mug and a fly swatter. Computer generated simulations of various types of cockroaches and spiders are then added to the visual display, so that the insects appear to be actually walking around and over the patient’s hands.

The therapist has options to control the number, size, type and movement of the insects, the spider could build a web, or the cockroach could spread its wings, for example, depending on the reactions of the patient. At the same time, the therapist can record the responses and degree of discomfort experienced by the patient.

By making the interaction between the patient and his or her phobia more of a game, the therapeutic lamp system gives both patient and therapist more control over the confrontation of the phobia, while allowing for a much greater common interface between the therapist and patient.

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