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The Virtual News, Volume 3(2)

2003

Current Events at VRMC

We would like to offer a warm welcome to Dr. Shani Robins, Ph.D., the new clinical psychologist at the Palo Alto Clinic. Dr. Robins completed an M.A. and Ph.D. in Cognitive Experimental Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, a 2-year Postdoctoral National Institute of Mental Health Fellowship at the University of California, Irvine, was a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, and has completed a second Ph.D. respecializing in Clinical Psychology at the California School of Professional Psychology, San Diego. We would also like to welcome Kathy Vandenburgh, Ph.D. to the San Diego Clinic. Dr. Vandenburgh is a clinical psychologist with an M.A. and Ph.D. in psychology. She has been working in the field for 15 years and is available to treat children, adolescents and adults. Dr. Vandenburgh's specialties are stress reduction, anxiety disorders and health psychology.

The VRMC is also pleased to announce a new policy regarding insurance payment for services. The clinic now bills insurance companies directly as a courtesy to our patients. Some insurance policies may cover our services as individual psychotherapy billed under the 'mental health' benefit portion. Other insurance policies may cover our services under 'medical parity'. We will be happy to call your insurance to verify.

The VRMC has been awarded a three more grants over the past months. Among these, a grant for using virtual reality to lessen pain associated with dental procedures will be fulfilled in partnership with The Scripps Center for Dental Care in San Diego. In addition, funding has been provided from several organizations to support the CyberTherapy 2004 conference presented by the Interactive Media Institute.

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The 2nd Annual CyberTherapy 2004 conference: Using Interactive Media in Training and Therapeutic Interventions has been set for January 10-12, 2004. The meeting will be held at the Westgate Hotel in downtown San Diego and will include presentations by researchers from all over the world. To see more information about the conference, please visit www.vrphobia.com/imi/newconference/index.htm.

Recently, Mark was invited to speak on the use of virtual reality in education and training at a Learning Federation sponsored meeting in Seattle at the University of Washington campus. In addition, Brenda gave a talk on Virtual Reality and Autism at a conference sponsored by the U.S. Army TATRC (Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center).

Special issues of CyberPsychology and Behavior includes a double issue of selected papers from the CyberTherapy 2003 conference published in June and August with several articles by the Wiederholds. The October issue will focus on Canadian virtual reality research and was compiled by Guest Editor Stepháne Bouchard, Ph.D.

We are hoping to include a column in future newsletters called "In Their Own Words" which will be written by a patient who would like to share their story of dealing with and getting treatment for an anxiety disorder. If you are interested in contributing to "In Their Own Words" please write to cyberpsych@vrphobia.com.

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Summer Time!

You are driving home from work with your air conditioning going full blast and suddenly you realize: it's 7:00pm and it is still light out! The recent passing of summer solstice signaled the official start to summer, but we are all beginning to feel the change in the weather and mood. BBQ's are being dusted off and here in San Diego the beaches are getting more crowded. It's a time for outdoors and vacations for most of us, but for some summer brings the threat of phobias. Below is a review of several common summer phobias, and suggestions for coping with them to ensure a summer that is more full of fun and less full of fear.

Weather Phobias

In the US, thunderstorm phobias are in the top 10 of fears suffered by the population, indicating how many people potentially suffer from them. Though some of us enjoy the sound of thunder and counting the seconds until lightening strikes, weather phobias affect a wide range of people and can be caused by many different phenomena.

The symptoms and difficulties associated with weather phobia are similar to any kind of phobia. Physiological symptoms such as increased respiration, nausea, panic and sweaty palms (the fight or flight response) all may be involved. Those suffering from weather phobias may be obsessed with watching weather forecasts to see what may be coming to their area.

Any sign of approaching weather can insight panic, not just the weather itself. On a BBC message board, a writer wrote about her terrifying summer months: "I hate summer because I have a thunderstorm phobia. I am constantly on edge from May to September and can only start to relax once the cooler weather comes along in autumn. I get worse after each storm and am usually a nervous wreck at the end of summer. I am now obsessed with thunderstorms and am already dreading next summer."

Weather phobias can be treated just like any other specific phobia. Though exposure is the best option, it is important to remain calm during episodes of weather. Make sure to breathe deeply and practice relaxation techniques. Monitor muscle tension, and remember that the situation is temporary.

Here is a list of some weather phobias:

List and quote taken from www.bbc.co.uk/weather/features/phobias.shtml:
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Water Phobia

Being afraid of the water is a common problem among people of all ages, though it usually is a disorder of childhood onset. Sometimes the phobia can be traced back to a specific event such as a near drowning or accident, but most often there is no precipitating incident or at least the person cannot remember one.

For people with this phobia, summertime is often the worst. A plethora of pool parties, beach gatherings and camping trips all provide instances when a sufferer must make excuses for their behavior. However, the best treatment for this phobia, as with any phobia, is some type of exposure.

Many institutes and organizations offer swimming lessons specifically for phobic adults and children in a group or private setting. Some summer camps even provide special programs for water phobic campers. For children with the fear, it is important to never force them into the pool or ocean. Learning by watching a parent or sibling enjoying their time in the water is sometimes the best tool for them. Contact your local YMCA or recreation center to find out if they have lessons for those with a phobia.

Insect Phobias

Insect phobia, also known as ENTOMOPHOBIA, includes acarophobia, the fear of mites (scabies) and, the most common, arachnophobia (spiders). Most people are at least slightly fearful of certain insects, but this may be a reasonable fear based on knowledge or experience from stings and bites. Some hypothesize that the danger insects have caused to humans has resulted in an ingrained fear of insects in most societies. Bites and stings to humans produce toxic reactions and sometimes-fatal diseases (which only recently have become under control). This explanation, however, is more likely to underlie the non-clinical end of the fear spectrum than it is to underlie true clinical phobias. A phobia is most often based on an unreasonable or misplaced fear resulting from misinformation. A true insect phobia is a persistent irrational fear of and compelling desire to avoid insects, significant distress from the disturbance despite recognition by the individual that the fear is excessive or unreasonable, and not due to another mental disorder.

The primary tool in treatment is education. An expert in the field may be able to dispel any misconceptions that may be complicating the phobia. Education can work to put insects in a more positive light, and to remove the fears that may be passed on from parents or previous experiences.

Specific phobias are among the most treatable of mental disorders, and though there may not yet be a virtual reality program for all specific phobias, many of the same principles can be applied. Practice relaxation and breathing techniques. Learn all you can about the real dangers posed by each specific situation. Expose yourself gradually to the phobic situation. Most importantly, get help when you need it!

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Kids and Summer Camp:
What they are scared of and how to help

Each year many children spend part of their summer vacation at a sleepover camp, and many of them become homesick. Still others show signs of water phobia or social phobia, but may be afraid of underlying factors such as changing in front of others. However, the answer is not to keep them home. Summer camp is a great opportunity for a child to practice independence, learn social skills and experience new activities like horseback riding or hiking.

One important part of sending your child to camp is deciding which of the many camps to send them to. It is helpful to focus on three aspects: place, people, and philosophy. What is the location like, and what kind of buildings will your child be staying in? What training does the staff have? Does the camp foster independence and emphasize learning of new skills? You can find out the answers by asking friends where they have sent their children or contacting different camps by letter or phone and requesting videos or brochures and lists of satisfied customers. Make sure you involve your child in the destination decision so that they have the opportunity to become excited about where they are going.

Before sending your child to camp, it is essential to prepare them so that there are no nasty surprises. Practice shorter separations to help children learn how to cope with homesickness. Encourage them to talk about what camp will be like, and tell them about any experiences you may have had at summer camp as a child. Make sure they know that you will miss them, but that you are excited that they will be having so much fun. Sometimes it helps to involve them in packing their bags and letting them choose what to bring with them. Give them paper and stamps so that they know they can contact you, and you may even want to mail a letter early so that it is waiting for them when they get to camp.

Parents can play a big part in helping their children overcome fear and loneliness by helping them understand that those feelings are natural. Talk about possible ways to cope such as physical activity, making friends, and the distraction that comes from learning something new.

Most of all, don't worry if your child cries or feels lonesome when they first arrive. It's almost guaranteed that they will want to stay by the end of their time there.

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Dr. Brenda K. Wiederhold, Ph.D., MBA, BCIA Dr. Mark D. Wiederhold, M.D., Ph.D., FACP Ruth Kogen
Executive Director Medical Director Research Editor

Donations to support research and training opportunities combining technology and psychology may be made to our 501c3 nonprofit organization—the Interactive Media Institute.
Donations are tax deductible, and a letter will be provided for tax purposes.


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