An Augmented Reality self-help treatment for spider phobia


Specific phobias are intense, irrational fears for an object or situation that poses no objective threat. Think, for example, of fear of spiders, mice or flying. Phobic people recognize that their fear is excessive and unreasonable, yet are unable to overcome it. The object or situation causes intense anxiety and distress, which can significantly interfere with people’s ability to function in their lives. With a lifetime prevalence of 10% phobias are among the most common mental disorders. Due to high treatment costs, long waiting lists and fear of stigma, access to treatment is currently limited. Additionally, since 2014 treatment for specific phobia is not covered by healthcare insurance anymore, further reducing the number of people who have access to treatment.

The proposed project capitalizes on the potential of Augmented Reality (AR) technology and recent developments in eMental health to develop a prototype for specific phobia treatment. The focus of the prototype will be on fear of spiders, which is chosen due to its high prevalence. It will involve an encompassing self-help AR-based Cognitive Behavior Therapy delivered through a smartphone application. The treatment consists of six animated modules that provide psychoeducation, goal-setting, dealing with fear and negative thoughts and practicing with challenging situations. Exposure, the core of the treatment, will be delivered through AR technology for mobile devices. Due to the low-cost and scalability, the proposed treatment can offer premium healthcare at a fraction of the current cost and provide access to evidence-based treatment to people who normally lack healthcare access.


Project number


Main applicant

Dr. T. Donker

Affiliated with

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Faculteit der Gedrags- en Bewegingswetenschappen, Klinische, Neuro- en Ontwikkelingspsychologie - KNOP


01/10/2019 to 14/08/2020