Speech Therapy

By Matthew Boyle

August 13, 2001

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Toastmasters, beware. There's new hope for business folk plagued by glossophobia (fear of public speaking). Eleven U.S. clinics--and four

internationally--now offer virtual-reality therapy, thanks to software designed by Virtually Better, based in Decatur, Ga.

Standard treatment for phobias calls for the patient to gradually face the fear, by either imagining it or confronting it. The appeal of VR therapy is that it's more realistic than visualization therapy and more practical than real-life exposure. (Just try getting 25 of your closest friends together to hear your quarterly sales presentation.) While there are still no large-scale studies of the efficacy of the approach, psychologists and other experts seem excited. "I was quite impressed when I saw it," says Dr. Stefan Hofmann, who heads the social-anxiety program at the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders at Boston University. "But we really don't know how effective it is yet."

Dr. Robert Reiner, a Manhattan-based psychologist who once feared public speaking himself, heads Behavioral Associates, an institute specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy. Since November the institute has offered VR therapy along with biofeedback at a cost of $65 to $300 per session, and a standard course of treatment runs about ten to 20 visits. The treatment may be pricey, but not as costly as fumbling through your next department meeting.

--Matthew Boyle