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VR Series #3.1 Psychological Therapies Update

09 April 2018
Ian Slater discusses how state-of-the-art psychological therapy will be delivered via virtual reality (VR) in the NHS to benefit patients with psychosis.

Lest you thought that the march of VR research was largely focused across the pond it is of great interest to those of us in the UK to note that Health Minister Lord O’Shaughnessy has recently announced the winner of the 2017 NIHR i4i Mental Health Challenge Awards at the 2018 MQ Science Meeting.

The winning project from the 2017 competition will enable state-of-the-art psychological therapy to be delivered via virtual reality (VR) in the NHS to benefit patients with psychosis.

“Virtual reality treatment can help patients transform their lives. When people put on our headsets, a virtual coach takes them into computer-generated simulations of the situations they find troubling.

“The coach guides the patient through these scenarios, helping them practise techniques to overcome their difficulties. Patients often find it easier to do this work in the virtual world – and they enjoy using our VR applications – but the beauty is that the benefits transfer to the real world.” [per Daniel Freeman, Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry and NIHR Research Professor]

The treatment will be designed to automate the delivery thanks to a virtual coach that leads the therapy, combine that with [relatively] inexpensive VR kit and aim for widespread use in the NHS.

The Award will enable a diverse team to be assembled: patients, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, designers, computer scientists, healthcare experts, statisticians, health economists.

As well as the McPin Foundation, they are working with the Royal College of Art, who will contribute innovative, socially inclusive design; NIHR MindTech, who are specialists in the development and adoption of new digital technologies in mental health; the University of Oxford spinout company Oxford VR/Nowican, who will build the treatment and help plan for the long-term adoption of the technology; and several NHS mental health trusts, who will trial the treatment and its implementation.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to develop and evaluate a new treatment that has the potential to transform people’s lives, and we’re particularly excited about working in partnership with patients and NHS staff as part of this project.

“We believe that this collaborative approach will help us to develop a VR treatment that is enjoyable and easy to use, and that will be taken up across the NHS so that as many people as possible can benefit.” [Dr Jennifer Martin, NIHR MindTech]

As more and more studies get underway and funding is made available for the innovative application of VR technology I firmly believe that it is only a matter of time before we see widespread adoption within healthcare. I say that not only in relation to psychological therapies but healthcare generally.

Last but by no means least, a plea, if you have the opportunity please follow our new Twitter page @BIRGarage

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