Marseille: treating amaxophobia, the fear of driving, thanks to virtual reality

15 to 20% of Eric Malbos’ patients are “amaxophobic”. Within the CHU de la Conception, the psychiatrist treats fear of driving with a 2.0 helmet.

“Virtual reality helped me a lot, I couldn’t overtake a double-axle truck, after the sessions I succeeded. It was a Thursday. I went home, and I said ‘I overtook a truck! even a double axle!“”, proudly says Michèle, 49 years old.

Even if there is no small victory, this medical secretary has not yet come to the end of her anxiety on the highway. It’s been 13 years now.

I took my car as usual. There was my husband next and my son behind. I get on the highway and there all of a sudden: panic attack. It was my husband who helped me get behind the wheel.”, she remembers.

Today she defines herself as “a pro of small roads.“This karting fan only takes national and departmental roads.

Michèle is prone to what is called “axamophobia”. It is the fear of driving or being installed in a vehicle.

She however made the choice to settle in the seat of doctor Eric Malbos, towards the highway. He is a psychiatrist at the Conception Hospital in Marseille. In this futuristic seat, surrounded by a huge poster of Myazaki and the movie Tron, she can ride in safety.

In the den of this office 2.0, patients parade for all phobias or addictions. His patients affected by amaxophobia represent 10 to 20% of his patient base. It is such a recurring subject that the patrician has co-authored a book “Pas de panic au roue!” taking up the basis of his therapy.

Anxiety is normal. It is not an illness. What is a disease is to trigger it at times that are not justified.

Eric Malbos

Doctor Eric Malbos has been treating phobias for 20 years with virtual reality. In her experience, her patient base for amaxophobia is more feminine.

In general, the classic case is a mother in the middle of summer, it’s hot, she leaves her job where there have been tensions, she picks up her children and there she panics. As it happened in the car, she will think it is associated with the car and will block.”, he popularizes.

The idea is to stimulate as many senses as possible to plunge the person into the most total illusion, the closest to reality. Current technology makes it possible to have more realistic graphics and to offer something more immersive.

“80% of the patients I see for amaxophobia are afraid of the highway. We are going gradually, the advantage is that we can adjust each parameter.”, explains the psychiatrist.

Absolutely everything can be adapted to the software: speed, rain, number of cars, time, bridges, tunnels. A seat is also connected. It reproduces the vibrations of the car. “It is possible to be alone on the highway and drive at 5 km/h“, he assures.

While the patient is immersed in this virtual world, he feels all the sensations of reality: the pulse which accelerates, the anxiety which rises. In the same room, Eric Malbos communicates with his patient. During the session, he modifies some parameters on the software.

At each stage, he asks the patient to place his level of anxiety on a scale of 1 to 100. The more the patient increases his level of anxiety, the more the psychiatrist invites him to use different methods. These methods, the patient learns during five collective sessions preceding the virtual individual sessions.

Do not fight anxiety, but accept it. We learn the methods of accepting anxiety. It’s like learning to swim, we’re not going to throw a child in the water like that.“, explains the psychiatrist.

Currently, it takes three to four months to get an appointment for virtual sessions at the CHU de la conception.

In the French-speaking area, 2,000 therapists are equipped with virtual reality for their patients. You can find the list of practitioners on the website psy.live.

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Marseille: treating amaxophobia, the fear of driving, thanks to virtual reality


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