Keywords: Virtual therapeutic assistant, Small animal phobia, Exposure therapies, Self-applied treatment
Small animal phobias (AP) are a type of specific phobia where there is an intense and persistent, excessive, or irrational fear in the presence of a particular small animal. One of the most effective techniques to overcome specific phobias is Exposure Therapy, where the patient is exposed to the object of fear repeatedly and gradually. However, it is difficult to carry out this type of therapy when there is no full control of the feared object and there is no way to ensure gradual exposure. The objective of this study is to explore the feasibility of a self-applied exposure treatment for rat phobia called Thera. Thera is a verbally interactive virtual therapist assistant that uses smart devices to obtain contextual data. The treatment proposal was evaluated through a survey with 11 Mexican mental health professionals with experience working with patients with phobias. The results show that the specialists perceived the proposal as useful for the treatment of AP and that it would generate in patients an experience like that experienced with real objects of fear; they found the proposal to be useful to use; also, they showed a high intention to use it. In addition, they provided useful feedback on each of the proposed stages for the redesign of the proposed treatment.