Virtual Reality and psychosis

Many people find social situations difficult. This includes people with psychosis. Virtual Reality (VR) may be able to help some overcome this, and the immersive worlds created by VR technology are now convincing enough (and affordable enough) to be used in psychology therapy. Find out how VR is being used within a new research programme for people with psychosis.






Virtual Reality (VR) has been around for decades, but the immersive worlds created by VR technology are now convincing enough (and affordable enough) to be used in psychological therapy. VR environments have already helped people with phobias, forming part of an exposure therapy programme. People can experience virtual simulations of things that they might be frightened of to confront in real life (e.g., heights or spiders).

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) sees the potential of using VR in the NHS, awarding the 2017 Invention for Innovation (I4I) funding to a team led by Professor Daniel Freeman at the University of Oxford. The programme, operating in five sites across England, will develop, demonstrate and test VR therapy to help people who experience psychosis and who may find social situations difficult.

A comprehensive research programme such as this requires expertise from different types of organisations, working in different fields, to achieve a common goal. The clinical trial itself is only one bit of a much larger picture. The McPin Foundation has been part of this collaboration from the beginning, alongside the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design (Royal College of Arts) and Mindtech (University of Nottingham). McPin has two main tasks; (1) to help embed the expertise of people who experience psychosis into the design and development of the VR scenarios, and (2) to find out how acceptable VR therapy will be to potential beneficiaries, and barriers to implementing it as part of the NHS. This will involve qualitative research work, conducted with expertise from people who have used mental health services.

We are looking forward to working with the Helen Hamlyn Centre, a team which specialises in ‘inclusive design’ and ‘user experience’ (UX). They aim to develop products with people rather than for them. There are obvious parallels to Patient and Public Involvement (PPI), and this project provides an opportunity to bring these two ways of working together. We are also looking forward to working with Mindtech, improving our knowledge about how new services and therapies can be implemented.

Major research funders now recognise the importance of the context that surrounds a clinical trial. This increases the potential for individuals to inform research with their personal experiences (the new INVOLVE guidance outlines ways people can do this). People’s experiences are relevant in the design and development of therapies, or in understanding the barriers that people face when trying out new therapies and technologies. Research programmes like this are good news for McPin, as we try to find new and innovative methods for involving people in research.

You can find out more information about our involvement with the project, here.