New virtual reality therapy helping victims of phobias conquer their fears

To most people, a trip to the beach is a fun ad relaxing experience but to mother-of-three Kristina Duke it's a place that bring her nothing but high anxiety because of her fear of birds.

“They’re unpredictable, they’re violent flappers and they’re intruders of my space,” Kristina told Matt Doran in an interview for Sunday Night.

While Kristina’s fear of birds, known as ornithophobia, may seem totally irrational, it has had a debilitating affect on her life.

Kristina's phobia affects her everyday life at home.

"Just walking down the street can be a minefield for somebody that has got a phobia, because you are worrying about ‘where is the bird, the bird is moving, what’s happening?’ and that constant tension – it’s exhausting,” she said.

But Clinical psychologist Corrie Ackland, who specialises in phobias, is developing a new and potentially highly effective treatment. Her team is turning to virtual reality to conquer phobias.

Through a VR headset, phobia sufferers can be gradually exposed to environments that give them anxiety, from needle injections to dentists, snakes and spiders.

For several weeks, Kristina underwent counselling and virtual reality therapy, designed to desensitize her to birds.

Finally, in the ultimate test, Kristina visited the bird aviary at Taronga Zoo, an experience that not too long ago would've been akin t o entering a house of horrors

Kristina underwent weeks of therapy using virtual reality to help her conquer her fear.

Incredibly, she remained calm and composed, and was able to come within reach of the creatures that used to terrify her.

“I can’t believe I’m this close,” she said.

“It’s so cool to conquer your fear and own it instead of being owned by it. I feel like I’ve climbed a mountain, can do anything I wanted to do, run a marathon.”