The Sydney Clinic Treating Phobias With Virtual Reality

The Sydney Clinic Treating Phobias With Virtual Reality

Totem Labs is a Sydney-based company using Virtual Reality and 360 video to treat phobias with exposure therapy – and it has just received a grant from the NSW Government to expand the business.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Skills John Barilaro said Totem Labs received a Minimum Viable Product grant from the private-sector led, NSW Government backed Jobs for NSW to develop the VR technology for The Sydney Phobia Clinic – which is expanding across Australia.

“It’s estimated that 6-12 per cent of people suffer from anxiety related to a specific phobia, so it is important that people know they can be treated to reduce the impact on their lives, which in some cases can be severe,” Barilaro said.

“The NSW Government is supporting this innovative company, which was founded by psychology graduate Pieter Rossouw, to grow a new niche industry for the state’s economy,” Barilaro said.

Pieter Rossouw is a co-founder of the Sydney Phobia Clinic, where the treatments created by Totem Labs are carried out.

The most popular fears treated at the clinic are are flying, heights, public speaking, claustrophobia, spiders, dogs, needles, birds, vomit and cockroaches. The clinic also covers less common fears – such as the fear of holes, balloons, fruit – even cooked fish.

The idea for the company came when Rossouw met co-founder Corrie Ackland – who told him there was a gap in the treatment of phobias between trying to picture things in your imagination, and actually being in that scenario.

“I have had an interest in VR since I was a kid and now that it’s finally mainstream and affordable. This is one of the quintessential problems VR can solve, so with Corrie’s help I started building prototypes,” Rossouw said. “We used Totem Labs as a development house for the VR experiences and we use the technology in a clinical setting in Sydney Phobia clinic.”

Rossouw said the Jobs for NSW grant allowed the company to engage a programmer and an animator to develop their initial VR content.

“It was extremely helpful as it was one of the few grants we were eligible for. We have now grown 50 per cent every month for the past five months and have just hired two new therapists.”