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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 use of modern technologies, such as 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 will guide users through their thoughts, feelings, and responses in certain social situations. In this study, people with psychosis, designers, researchers and NHS staff are working together to develop the VR therapy to ensure the best user experience. A further consultation process will produce a guide to using VR in NHS psychosis services.

Professor Daniel Freeman and his team based at the University of Oxford have received funding for this project from the National Institute of Health Research (NiHR). The team at Oxford are working with a number of different organisations to test the effectiveness of VR therapy for people with psychosis. They aim to recruit 432 people with psychosis to take part in 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, symptoms, 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. 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. McPin peer researchers are assisting with the design and implementation of the patient qualitative studies. Click on the video below to hear from LEAP members.

gameChange (HD 720p)

What is the current status of the project? 

The study began in June 2018 and will run for three years. Participant recruitment will start in July 2019. Recruitment of members to join the Lived Experience Advisory Panel is now closed.

Where can I find more information?

Visit the gameChange website for more information. For further queries, please contact Anja Hollowell or Thomas Kabir by email: anjahollowell@mcpin.org or thomaskabir@mcpin.org or by phone: 0207 922 7874.