Using virtual reality technology to treat children for dog phobia is the aim of a new study at Griffith.

Aimed at children aged 8-12 years, the therapy entailsassessments andanintensive three hour treatmentwhereby participantsareexposed to multiple types of dogs wearing a virtual reality headset.

“A fear of dogs is one of the most common phobias amongthe 10 per cent ofchildrenwho suffer from them,” saysstudy leader andMasters of Psychology studentTakaMiyamoto.

“There are effective treatments for this phobia but unfortunately they can be difficult to deliverfor cliniciansgiven that the live stimuli —dogs-areneeded.

“Using virtual reality is an innovative alternative treatment for older children who can easily use the technology headsets tobe exposed toa range of several different breeds ofvirtualdogat once.

“This has the advantage of being more accessible and appealing for children with severe dog phobia. There is also the obvious advantage for the clinician with regards to the practicalities of having multiple dogs within the treatment area.”

Part of a wider Griffith study

The dog phobia therapy isapart of awider Griffith study looking at the efficacy of intensive, time-limited treatment for specific phobias inpre-schoolchildren using an efficient one session treatment approach.

Having just been awarded a $570,000 National Health and Medical Research Council grant, the five-year study will investigate the phobias of children aged 3-5 yearsin a bid to reduce the likelihood of mental health problems in later life.

“The most commonphobias among children arephobias of dogs and the dark; however, there are others, such as phobias ofhigh places,loud noises and costume characters,” saysAssociate Professor Lara Farrellfrom Griffith’s School of Applied Psychology.

“The long-term research to date has shown that phobias during childhood arethe strongest predictor for mental healthdisorders later on.Soif we can treat phobias in childhood,we may be able topreventothermental health problems later in life.

“Indeed, a very recent ten year prospective longitudinal study concluded that about half of all serious adult mental health disorders (including panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder [GAD], OCD, PTSDanddepression) could be prevented if phobias beginning in the first two decades of life were effectively treated.

“This study represents a critical step towards testing these conclusions experimentally by treating phobias at the first sign of clinical onset during the pre-school years.

“Quite remarkably,phobiascan be effectively treated in just a single session; with robust evidence in support of the one-session treatment approach for older youth (7 — 17 years) and adults. However, the one session approach has not yet been tested with preschool aged children.”

Associate Professor Farrell says that the study will follow up the pre-school participants two years following the treatment to see if the development of anxieties and fears can be offset.

“It is when children get older that they may show signs of other anxiety and depression disorders.Our hope is to prevent such problems by targeting childhood phobias inpre-schoolers.”

Interested participants should phone:(07) 5678 8317or visit: