VR Used to Treat Mental Disorders

A team at the University of Oxford has used virtual reality to treat people suffering from severe paranoia. Patients were encouraged to put themselves in simulated situations where they would be surrounded by other people, such as a train carriage and a lift.

Image copyright: Oxford UniversityMembers of one group of the 30 participants were told to use their normal defensive behaviour, such as avoiding eye contact. Other patients were asked to lower the defences, learning that they were safe by approaching the virtual avatars.

The second group demonstrated the largest reduction in their paranoia; more than half of them ‘no longer had severe paranoia’ by the end of the trial. However, the first group also saw some reductions.

Daniel Freeman, a professor at Oxford, told the BBC, “At the heart of paranoia is the unfounded belief that people are under threat. With virtual reality we can help the person to re-learn that they are safe, and when they do that, the paranoia melts away.”

Although the group size was small, and testing consisted of just one 30-minute session, Freeman said that the results were “exceptionally good.”