Virtual Reality Could Help Patients Fight Depression

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Virtual Reality Therapy

A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry Open reports that the virtual reality therapy could help people with depression from being critical against them. Scientists from the University College London and ICREA University of Barcelona claimed that they could transform patients of depression to be more compassionate towards themselves with the help of a virtual reality avatar.

The virtual reality therapy was tested on fifteen depressed patients aged between 23 and 61 years. After a month of the therapy, nine of the fifteen patients reported reduced depressive symptoms while four had experienced a clinically significant drop in depression severity. Patients for the test wore a virtual reality headset wherein, they saw a life size adult avatar or a virtual body that moved in the same way as the patients’ body. This is known as embodiment. Patients in an embodied avatar were trained to express compassion towards a distressed virtual child. Upon talking to the child, it gradually stopped crying and responded positively to the compassion. Thereafter, the patients were embodied in the virtual child where the adult avatar used their own compassionate words and gestures towards them.

This procedure was repeated thrice a week for eight minutes and the patients were followed up a month later. “In this study, by comforting the child and then hearing their own words back, patients are indirectly giving themselves compassion,” said Chris Brewin from the University College London.

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