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

EyeFocus Eye Care Innovation Conference

31 January 2017, London, UK. EyeFocus is holding a one day conference about eye-care innovation to end the second EyeFocus program. The conference is instead of the traditional demo day, and...

Read more

New Virtual Reality Technology may Impro…

A combination of traditional physical therapy and technology may improve the motor skills and mobility of an impaired hand by having its partner, more mobile hand lead by example through...

Read more

European Commission Seeks Input on a Ref…

Smart wearables provide technology-based solutions to pressing societal and economic challenges in the areas of healthy ageing, elderly care, emergency management, safety at work, productivity enhancement, training of professionals, energy...

Read more

Top 20 eHealth News of 2016

Look back at the most prominent moments from the year 2016. We are proud to announce the 20 most popular eHealth News from 2016, the most commonly viewed news articles...

Read more

conhIT Newcomer Awards 2017: Health IT I…

25 - 27 April 2017, Berlin, Germany. By bringing representatives of the Health IT industry and other Healthcare institutions together with prospective young employees conhIT 2017, Europe's leading event for Health...

Read more

Philips and Leading Network of Healthcar…

Royal Philips (NYSE: PHG, AEX: PHIA) today announced the signing of a 10-year strategic partnership agreement with the Expert Group of Companies, one of Russia's leading network of healthcare centers...

Read more

Ireland's First Babies Born with an Elec…

The HSE and eHealth Ireland are delighted to announce the arrival of Emily, one of Ireland’s first newborns to have their own electronic health record from birth. Weighing 7lb 5oz...

Read more

MSD Innovation Factory: SMART STOCK Chal…

Pharmacy Chains in the EEMEA Region are growing rapidly. These are in the range of 150+ pharmacy outlets or so called PoS (Point of Sale). Thousands of prescriptions are being...

Read more

Dudley Group Adds Allscripts SunriseTM E…

In the fourth quarter of 2016, The Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust selected Allscripts (NASDAQ:MDRX) fully integrated health IT solution to help achieve its objective to become a fully digital...

Read more

Philips Highlights Cloud-Based Innovatio…

Royal Philips (NYSE: PHG, AEX: PHIA) is showcasing innovative connected health products and solutions that empower consumers to become ever-more engaged in their health. Leveraging Philips' expertise in the consumer...

Read more

MSD Innovation Factory: INNOREP Challeng…

Nowadays, pharmaceutical launches are becoming harder and more competitive. In some cases, MSD products are neither the only nor the first player in the market. Besides, clinical data can be...

Read more

MSD Innovation Factory: EDU CARE Challen…

At healthcare professionals' waiting room around the globe there is a repeated scenario: inattentive patients spend their time before being seen by their healthcare professionals. Sometimes playing with their smartphones...

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