Date of Award


Document Type



Santa Clara : Santa Clara University


Computer Engineering

First Advisor

Maria Pantoja


Phobias, defined as a persistent and often irrational fear of an object or situation, are a very common type of anxiety disorder that can make it extremely difficult if not impossible for sufferers to interact with the world in a normal and healthy fashion. Traditionally therapists have used a concept known as systematic desensitization to help patients gain control of the emotional and physical reaction to their phobia. Systematic desensitization is employed using a type of treatment known as exposure therapy in which the patients are gradually made to think about and eventually face whatever triggers their anxiety until they are able to control their response during full exposure. While this treatment method can prove effective for some patients, we have identified two major problems with it. First, many patients are reluctant to undergo treatment and would rather ignore their phobia than be forced to face it. Second, depending on the type of phobia, treatment can quickly become expensive if the therapist has to travel with the patient outside of the office. This paper outlines a system we developed that implements emerging virtual reality technologies as a tool for therapists to supplement the traditional treatments for anxiety disorders such as phobias. Our system uses the Oculus Rift, the Leap Motion, a mobile application, and a simulation running in the Unity Game Engine to create an immersive virtual experience for the patient while still giving the therapist the necessary control over the treatment. We believe that this system has the potential to provide therapists with a safer, more controlled, cheaper, and ultimately more effective way to expose their patients to their phobias.