Overcome your fear of MRIs

Dr Emma Johnston, Clinical Psychologist, Cumberland Park SA
15th March 2018

A study published in the Journal of Psychological Medicine concluded that 9% of the population suffer from claustrophobia. What does this mean for important diagnostic imaging?

Whilst for the majority of people, scans for medical investigations cause no more anxiety than the mild discomfort triggered by the unknown, for tens of thousands of Australians, the thought of having an MRI is an horrendous one.

MRI scans involve being able to remain completely still within a small enclosed environment that is noisy and often described as highly unpleasant. For those with anxieties around claustrophobia, having an MRI can seem an almost insurmountable task. This can lead to avoidance of MRIs or early termination of the procedure often before the scan has been able to collect all relevant information. It can also lead to compromised quality of the scan, which is both costly and distressing. This is a problem that affects children, adolescents and adults alike.


Generally, medication has been offered to those who fear having an MRI. However, medications can have side effects, can be inappropriate for children and adolescents, and ultimately taking medications does not address the underlying anxiety issue. Psychologists have treated people for claustrophobia, including more specifically anxiety around MRIs, using cognitive behavioural anxiety management techniques combined with imaginal exposure exercises. This means that people are required to imagine themselves in the situation they fear (such as imagine being in an MRI machine).

Virtual reality technology has brought the MRI to the psychologist’s office. State of the art treatment for fear of MRIs can be delivered through therapist directed cognitive behaviour therapy utilising virtual reality technology to assist in getting you used to MRIs and teaching you how to manage the anxiety that the MRI evokes. This enables MRIs to be completed successfully without the need for medication, which is especially important in children or in situations where the MRI procedure is likely to be lengthy.


Don’t let your claustrophobia stop you having important diagnostic imaging.

ThinkWise Clinical Psychology is pleased to be able to offer virtual reality innovative treatment for anxiety about having an MRI. Please call our friendly team on 84183834 for further details.

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