Virtual Reality Therapy Could Be Used To Treat Depression

Could virtual reality be the next frontier for treating depression?

A new study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry Open on Monday, suggests that VR therapy could reduce depressive symptoms by boosting feelings of self-compassion and alleviating self-criticism.

“Self-compassion is important in soothing feelings of distress, and without it distress can escalate and become unbearable,” Dr. Chris Brewin, a professor of health psychology at University College London and the study’s lead author, told The Huffington Post in an email. “We now know that many patients with depression and other disorders have real problems in being compassionate towards themselves, although they are often very good at being compassionate to others.”

For the preliminary study, 15 adults with depression underwent three sessions of virtual reality therapy, which had previously been tested on healthy volunteers.

In the virtual reality sessions, the patients wore a virtual reality headset which allowed them to see from the perspective of a life-size avatar. To create the illusion that the avatar was their own body — an experience known in VR as “embodiment” — the patients were able to see the body moving in a mirror the exact same way that they were moving.

While “embodied,” the participants underwent eight-minute sessions, during which they were told to express compassion toward an avatar of a distressed child. As the patient spoke kindly towards the child, the child calmed down and gradually stopped crying. Next, the patients were embodied in the child’s figure, and then listened to the avatar of their adult selves expressing compassion towards them.

The patients underwent three weekly sessions of this virtual reality exercise. Then, one month after the therapy, the patients answered questions about their moods and mental health. Nine of the patients reported reduced depression symptoms, and four experienced a significant drop in the —> Read More