An innovative VR program, called gameChange, is taking patients on virtual visits to enable them to experience common outside scenarios, such as visiting a doctor or buying groceries. The virtual reality psychological therapy initiative aims to help individuals who have psychosis and are scared of leaving their homes.
A team of experts from the University of Oxford and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust have developed the program in collaboration with Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne, and Wear NHS Foundation Trust.
The fear of the outside or agoraphobia is a common predicament amongst people who have psychosis. It significantly impacts their relationships and careers by highlighting antisocial attributes. The new VR program aims to help such individuals in the Newcastle region.
The patients went through six sessions of about thirty minutes each over the course of six weeks with virtual reality tech. The sessions were conducted at an NHS clinic and their homes with a few additional homework tasks during the therapy.
Researchers found a small but considerable reduction in agoraphobia-associated behaviors post six weeks of VR therapy. The individuals faced lesser distress when compared to those who did not undergo the therapy. The initiative prompted the patients to participate in activities they could never imagine undertaking themselves.
Professor Daniel Freeman, the Lead Researcher at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford and NIHR Senior Investigator, said, “Over the past 25 years, VR has been used in a small number of specialist mental healthcare clinics. It has supported in-person therapy delivered by a clinician. However, with gameChange, the therapy is built-in, so it can be overseen by a range of staff. And it can be delivered in a variety of settings, including patients’ homes.”
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