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gameChange: Improving lives through Virtual Reality therapy

What is this research?

Many people experiencing psychosis find social situations difficult and consequently withdraw from everyday activities. This isolation and lack of activity means that people often develop physical health problems and their mental health deteriorates. It has been suggested that virtual reality (VR) could be used as a form of therapy for some people affected by psychosis.

VR therapy involves wearing a headset and interacting with computer-generated people, or avatars. Uniquely, in the gameChange VR therapy, a virtual coach guides users through their thoughts, feelings, and responses in certain social situations. In this study, people with psychosis, designers, researchers and NHS staff worked together to develop the VR therapy to ensure the best user experience.

Professor Daniel Freeman and his team at the University of Oxford are working with partner organisations to test the effectiveness of VR therapy for people with psychosis via a clinical trial. Half of the participants will receive their usual treatment and half will receive six sessions of the new VR therapy. Participants’ physical activity levels, agoraphobia, distress levels, and quality of life before and after treatment will be assessed. The study team will also analyse the cost-effectiveness of the treatment and produce a commissioning case and implementation toolkit for the VR therapy to be used in the NHS nationwide. The project is funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NiHR). Read more about the project on the gameChange website.

Why is this research important?

Currently, only 5% of people experiencing psychosis receive psychological therapy, and that therapy seldom directly addresses social withdrawal. This study uses cutting-edge VR technology to enable people to practise skills in a computer-simulated world, which may help to reduce problems in real life. This innovative approach could help to reduce anxiety and paranoia in people experiencing psychosis, and may also help to improve their engagement in everyday activities.

How are McPin and people with psychosis involved in this research?

The McPin Foundation are facilitating the service user involvement for this study in the form of a Lived Experience Advisory Panel (LEAP) of 11 service users. The LEAP provide advice and assistance to the wider study team. McPin and the LEAP are also working with the Royal College of Art, who are running workshops to re-design the VR environments. A McPin research team, which includes peer researchers, are leading a qualitative interview study with trial participants to explore their experience of the therapy and what they think the impact has been on their lives.

WATCH the video below to hear from LEAP members.

What is the current status of the project? 

The study has now ended. The trial found that people who received the gameChange therapy had greater reductions in their agoraphobia and distress levels than people who continued with their usual treatment. The trial found that people who were the most socially avoidant, for example, struggling to leave their house, benefited the most from the therapy and that the improvements were still there 6 months later.

READ the Lancet Psychiatry paper about the trial.

READ a blog about Alex’s experiences as a peer researcher on the project.

The qualitative study into trial participants’ experiences has been submitted for peer review.

WATCH the video below about the peer research approach to the qualitative study.

Where can I find more information?

Visit the gameChange website for more information. For further queries, please contact Thomas Kabir by email: thomaskabir@mcpin.org.