Nine NHS trusts trial VR psychological therapy trial

A clinical trial into the provision of psychological therapy using virtual reality (VR) across nine NHS trusts has highlighted ‘breakthrough success’.

The gameChange VR programme, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and developed by researchers from the University of Oxford and Oxford Health NHS FT, focuses on ‘intense fears of going outside’, for people diagnosed with psychosis, which can later develop into agoraphobia.   

It involves psychological therapy that is automated using virtual reality, with a user guided by a virtual coach, which the researchers suggest that ‘there then is no need for a real-life therapist’.

Trialled with 346 patients with psychosis across five English regions, the programme assisted people struggling with leaving their home by taking them from a housebound existence to life back in the outside world. The researchers findings highlight the VR therapy supported a ‘significant reduction in agoraphobic avoidance’.

The study is said to be the largest ever clinical trial of VR for mental health and has been published in The Lancet Psychiatry.

The trusts taking part in the VR trial included: 

  • Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust 
  • Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne, and Wear NHS Foundation Trust 
  • Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership (AWP) NHS Trust 
  • Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust 
  • Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust 
  • Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust 
  • Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust 
  • Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust (Milton Keynes) 
  • Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust. 

On the new trial, Professor Daniel Freeman, Lead Researcher, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford and NIHR Senior Investigator, said: “Virtual reality psychological therapy has come of age with gameChange. 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.” 

As part of the HTN feature series, we recently focused on how immersive technology is being used in healthcare. You can read the feature here.