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VR to treat mental ill-health?


Virtual reality technology, say experts, could soon revolutionise the way we treat mental ill-health. By plugging into treatment program software via something akin to a game console, individuals are able to immerse themselves in stressful situations from the safety of their own homes. For example, a soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder can travel to a virtual war zone; an alcoholic can visit a virtual bar; and a person who’s frightened of flying can take off and land in a virtual plane from the comfort of their couch. VR tech also has the potential to break down the barriers that prevent many people from seeking mental health treatment in the first place. Daniel Freeman, a professor of clinical psychology at Oxford University, says VR therapy could be “revolutionary in reducing stigma” associated with mental health conditions.

Oxford University is currently running the world’s first large-scale trial of VR therapy for serious mental health conditions, such as psychosis. Once the trial has concluded Freeman will analyse the results and — if promising — will recommend that VR therapy be adopted by the UK’s National Health Service. Barnaby Perks, CEO of Oxford VR, a tech company involved in the trial, told that virtual therapy’s “time has come”. “VR therapy is transforming the mental healthcare experience,” he says. “Great care has been taken to make the treatment program clinically challenging yet also engaging, and even fun.” ​

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