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

SAP IoT Startup Accelerator

The SAP IoT Startup Accelerator is a structured co-innovation program for selected B2B startups focusing on the Internet of Things. The Accelerator helps startups grow and scale their businesses alongside...

Read more

Paving the Way for eHealth Interoperabil…

The EURO-CAS project launched operations today to deliver the eHealth Conformity Assessment Scheme for Europe in 2018. This scheme will help European health systems assess the conformity of eHealth products...

Read more

SkinVision Unveils Breakthrough Algorith…

Dutch mobile health startup SkinVision has revealed its new algorithm that can detect most common forms of deadly skin cancer. Previously focused on detecting melanoma skin cancer, the app can...

Read more

eHealth Hub Solution Match Call: Hospita…

Solution Match is one of the services offered by the EU-funded initiative eHealth Hub, intending to promote and boost up commercialization. The eHealth Hub aims to provide long-term support to...

Read more

Wearable AI System can Detect a Conversa…

It's a fact of nature that a single conversation can be interpreted in very different ways. For people with anxiety or conditions such as Asperger's, this can make social situations...

Read more

Doctrina Raises €1,020,000 of New Capita…

Doctrina, a start-up company transforming the traditional transfer of knowledge between pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies, has raised a total of €1,020,000 in series A funding. The investment will enable Doctrina...

Read more

Biovision World Life Science Forum 2017

4 - 6 April 2017, Lyon, France. Biovision World Life Science Forum is fostering a unique approach to meet, connect and collaborate between international decision-makers from the academic, civil society, policy-making...

Read more

DIY Live Cell Imaging Using a Smartphone

A recent study from Uppsala University shows how smartphones can be used to make movies of living cells, without the need for expensive equipment. The study is published in the...

Read more

Horder Healthcare Uses IMS MAXIMS Electr…

Healthcare provider Horder Healthcare is to deploy an electronic patient record (EPR) from software provider IMS MAXIMS, in order to improve care for thousands of patients and facilitate its digital...

Read more

Brain-Computer Interface Allows Complete…

A brain-computer interface that can decipher the thoughts of people who are unable to communicate could revolutionize the lives of those living with complete locked-in syndrome according to a new...

Read more

Deep Learning in Healthcare Summit

28 - 01 March 2017, London, UK. Discover advances in deep learning tools and techniques from the world's leading innovators across industry, academia and the healthcare sector. Learn from the experts...

Read more

Pitch Your Digital Health Solution at th…

The second eHealth Roadshow, promoted by the new EU-funded eHealth Hub project, will take place on the 6th of April in Stuttgart, Germany, in the frame of the Medtec Europe...

Read more
(HEALTH IT) SPACE - Take a look at who has just Joined