Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health diagnosis in the US and are associated with avoidance that causes functional impairments and decreases quality of life. Social anxiety disorder is among the most prevalent anxiety disorders, with most common age of onset being in adolescence. The frontline treatment for social anxiety disorder is cognitive behavioral therapy with exposure. However, a significant number of adolescent patients do not get better after completing cognitive behavioral therapy or experience relapse. Providing realistic learning contexts for exposure could be the key to enhancing treatment effects in adolescents. This is often challenging for a variety of reasons, including difficulty realistically mimicking anxiety-provoking social situations due to limited resources, clinician training, time, or motivation. Virtual reality environments could provide contextual exposures for social anxiety.
The aims of this study are threefold: to assess feasibility of using virtual reality in treatment of social anxiety in youth, to examine whether virtual reality invokes arousal similar to anxiety and test the physiological assessment protocol, and to evaluate whether exposure using virtual reality environments reduces symptoms of social anxiety and related functional impairment.