Virtual Reality Therapy could Help People with Depression

An immersive virtual reality therapy could help people with depression to be less critical and more compassionate towards themselves, reducing depressive symptoms, finds a new study from UCL (University College London) and ICREA-University of Barcelona. The therapy, previously tested by healthy volunteers, was used by 15 depression patients aged 23-61. Nine reported reduced depressive symptoms a month after the therapy, of whom four experienced a clinically significant drop in depression severity. The study is published in the British Journal of Psychiatry Open and was funded by the Medical Research Council.

Patients in the study wore a virtual reality headset to see from the perspective of a life-size 'avatar' or virtual body. Seeing this virtual body in a mirror moving in the same way as their own body typically produces the illusion that this is their own body. This is called 'embodiment'.

While embodied in an adult avatar, participants were trained to express compassion towards a distressed virtual child. As they talked to the child it appeared to gradually stop crying and respond positively to the compassion. After a few minutes the patients were embodied in the virtual child and saw the adult avatar deliver their own compassionate words and gestures to them. This brief 8-minute scenario was repeated three times at weekly intervals, and patients were followed up a month later.

"People who struggle with anxiety and depression can be excessively self-critical when things go wrong in their lives," explains study lead Professor Chris Brewin (UCL Clinical, Educational & Health Psychology). "In this study, by comforting the child and then hearing their own words back, patients are indirectly giving themselves compassion. The aim was to teach patients to be more compassionate towards themselves and less self-critical, and we saw promising results. A month after the study, several patients described how their experience had changed their response to real-life situations in which they would previously have been self-critical."

The study offers a promising proof-of-concept, but as a small trial without a control group it cannot show whether the intervention is responsible for the clinical improvement in patients.

"We now hope to develop the technique further to conduct a larger controlled trial, so that we can confidently determine any clinical benefit," says co-author Professor Mel Slater (ICREA-University of Barcelona and UCL Computer Science). "If a substantial benefit is seen, then this therapy could have huge potential. The recent marketing of low-cost home virtual reality systems means that methods such as this could potentially be part of every home and be used on a widespread basis."

Caroline J. Falconer, Aitor Rovira, John A. King, Paul Gilbert, Angus Antley, Pasco Fearon, Neil Ralph, Mel Slater, Chris R. Brewin
Embodying self-compassion within virtual reality and its effects on patients with depression
British Journal of Psychiatry Open Feb 2016, 2 (1) 74-80; DOI: 10.1192/bjpo.bp.115.002147

Most Popular Now

Information Integration and Artificial I…

With their joint research alliance, Siemens Healthineers and the Fraunhofer Institute for Medical Image Computing MEVIS will support physicians in finding the right course of therapy for their patients. Both...

Philips and Illumina Team Up with Navica…

Royal Philips (NYSE: PHG, AEX: PHIA) and Navican, an Intermountain Healthcare company, today signed an agreement to deploy a precision health informatics solution that will allow hospitals and health systems...

Mind-Controlled Device Helps Stroke Pati…

Stroke patients who learned to use their minds to open and close a device fitted over their paralyzed hands gained some control over their hands, according to a new study...

Zebra Announces Regulatory Approval of i…

Zebra Medical Vision, the leading machine learning imaging analytics company, announces that the company has been granted the CE approval and subsequent release of its Deep Learning Analytics Engine in...

Technology for Health

InterComponentWare AG (ICW) is a leading supplier of software for the healthcare IT market. ICW develops solutions for IT-based collaboration among healthcare professionals and their patients. ICW is your trusted...

Tablet Helps Heart Failure Patients Mana…

A novel tablet is helping heart failure patients to manage their disease including drug dosages, according to research presented at EuroHeartCare 2017.(1) Heart failure is a serious condition in which...

IBM Security Launches New Capabilities t…

IBM (NYSE: IBM) has announced new incident response capabilities, from its IBM Resilient security portfolio, to help companies address the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). These capabilities are designed...

NHS Organisations to Access IMS MAXIMS C…

Award-winning electronic patient record (EPR) provider IMS MAXIMS has announced the availability of its cloud services on the latest iteration of the UK Government's G Cloud Framework. NHS organisations looking...

Boehringer Ingelheim Builds Digital Lab …

With the founding of BI X as independent subsidiary Boehringer Ingelheim will focus on breakthrough innovative digital solutions in healthcare from idea to pilot. The start-up will work closely together...

Anyone can Become More Curious. Is that …

Merck, a leading science and technology company, today announced the start of an experiment entitled "Anyone can become more curious". Driven by the company’s curiosity initiative, which measured and described...

Artificial Intelligence to Assist in the…

The University of Tampere and TAYS (Tampere University Hospital) Heart Hospital use artificial intelligence (A.I.) technologies developed by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland in the home care of heart...

KLAS Report: InterSystems TrakCare Tops …

InterSystems' electronic medical record (EMR) technology has been deployed by more hospitals than any other vendor's software during the past four years, according to a research report published today by...