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How Virtual Reality Therapy helped me tackle anxiety and cleithrophobia


‘It feels like the end of the world. I’m not thinking it’s the end of the world but my body is telling me ‘this is huge, this is not good, get out, get out.’

Rochelle Bisson joined us on the latest episode of our mental health podcast, Mentally Yours, to discuss her anxiety, her cleithrophobia (the fear of being trapped) and how Virtual Reality Therapy has helped her.

Rochelle had suffered from claustrophobia for most of her life, but her cleithrophobia was triggered in 2013 when she got stuck in a Tube train.

She said: ‘We stopped in a tunnel and the announcement came over the speakers and the driver said “we’re being held here for a moment, we don’t know when we’re going to move on, there’s a problem with the track ahead.”

‘Something just clicked in my head and I thought “but when are we going to move? You don’t know when we’re going to move off?”

‘Really vague language like that really doesn’t help me either.

‘It was only a few minutes, I don’t think it was anything major in terms of the tube broke down or we were stuck there for hours, but for me I just went into this spiral of panic and when I got to the next station, it wasn’t my stop but I just threw myself off the train.’

How Virtual Reality Therapy has helped manage my anxiety
(Picture: Getty/Mylo)

As well as having anxiety, Rochelle also sometimes struggles with lifts and big crowds because of her phobia.

Help came in a surprising way – she was approached by the BBC to try Virtual Reality Therapy as part of their documentary Can Robots Love Us?

Rochelle said: ‘It’s kind of a combination of different therapies with the use of virtual reality.

‘So there are elements of CBT, there are also elements of hypnotherapy, which I also hadn’t tried before – I think I was more scared about that than the virtual reality part – and then obviously the virtual reality was the big thing.

‘You basically put on what is a normal VR headset, that you could buy in the high street, and a phone.

She added: ‘It essentially puts you in the situation where you’re scared – that’s where your fear is… And you have your headphones on, the therapist can speak to you through the headphones and you get guided through a situation where your fear would be triggered and your anxiety would be triggered.

‘So in my case you go down the stairs and the train station, through the barrier and go on the platform and then get onto the train and then the train breaks down. And you have to learn to deal with it with the help of your therapist.

‘So (my therapist) Michael would feed me breathing techniques through the headphones and other things trying to calm me down.

‘I think the theory is that you have that backup option – you can just step out, you can take off the headset but you can learn the techniques while your anxiety is triggered.’

You can listen to the full show by clicking the Soundcloud link above, or subscribe to Mentally Yours through iTunes.

MORE: 12 ways you can try to stop self-harming

Here’s what you need to know about Mentally Yours:

Mentally Yours is a weekly podcast from Yvette and Ellen of Metro.co.uk, out every Monday.

We talk openly and often lightheartedly about mental health, and chat to a different guest each week about their experiences of mental illness.

You can listen to the previous episode, in which Seaneen Molloy talks about self-harm here.

Subscribe to Mentally Yours through iTunes or listen on Soundcloud.

You can follow us on Twitter too.

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