VR startup Totem Labs is making your worst fears a virtual reality

Sydney virtual reality startup Totem Labs is helping users address their phobias in head on, and have secured a Jobs for NSW Minimum Viable Product Grant to develop its technology.

Whether it’s spiders or heights, flying or the dentist’s chair that sets your skin crawling, Totem Labs founder Pieter Rossouw believes VR can bridge the gap between picturing phobias in your imagination and addressing them in real life: A key step in overcoming these fears.

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

Rossouw is building the technology for The Sydney Phobia Clinic, of which he is a co-founder, to complement its expansion across Australia. Totem Labs recently created experiences for phobias including needles, dentists, MRI machines, vomiting, snakes and birds to add to common fears such as dogs and insects.

“The critical point for treating phobias is the immersiveness of the treatment,” Rossouw says.

“I have had an interest in VR since I was a kid and now it’s finally mainstream and affordable. This is one of the quintessential problems VR can solve,” he says.

The Jobs for NSW grant allowed Totem Labs 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,” Rossouw says.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Skills John Barilaro expressed his support for Totem Labs and its use of new technologies to treat psychological conditions. “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,” Mr Barilaro said in a statement.

The $15,000 grant will allow Totem Labs to explore further avenues in VR, such as Autism spectrum therapy, post traumatic stress disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder rehabilitation training.

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