Virtual reality may reduce paranoia in psychotics: study

February 9, 2018
More research is needed to confirm the long-term benefits of virtual reality in psychosis therapy, which gave the impression of being in an alternate reality populated by life-like avatars

Virtual reality-based therapy combined with standard treatment reduced paranoia and anxiety in people with psychotic disorders, scientists reported Friday.

In clinical trials involving 116 patients in the Netherlands, virtual reality exercises led to less fraught social interactions, a team wrote in The Lancet Psychiatry.

More research is needed to confirm the long-term benefits of such technology, which gave the impression of being in an alternate reality populated by life-like avatars.

Up to 90 percent of people with psychosis suffer from paranoid thoughts, leading them to perceive threats where there are none.

As a result, many psychotics avoid public places and contact with people, spending a lot of time alone.

So-called cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)—in which therapists help patients break down seemingly overwhelming problems to render them less threatening—helps reduce anxiety, but does little to quell paranoia.

Researchers led by Roos Pot-Kolder of VU University in the Netherlands extended this method into a .

For the trial, the 116 participants—all receiving standard treatment, including antipsychotic medication and regular psychiatric consultations—were divided into two groups of 58.

Only one group practised social interactions in a virtual environment.

The treatment consisted of 16 one-hour sessions over 8-12 weeks in which the participants were exposed, via avatars, to social cues that triggered fear and paranoia in four virtual settings: a street, a bus, a café and a supermarket.

Therapists could alter the number of avatars, their appearance, and whether pre-recorded responses to the patient were neutral or hostile.

The therapists also coached participants, helping them to explore and challenge their own feelings in different situations, and to resist common "safety behaviours" such as avoiding eye contact.

Participants were assessed at the start of the trial, as well as three and six months afterwards.

Exposure to virtual reality did not increase the time participants subsequently spent with other people, the study found.

But it did affect the quality of their interactions.

"The addition of virtual reality CBT to standard treatment reduced paranoid feelings, anxiety, and use of safety behaviours in social situations, compared with standard alone," said lead author, Roos Pot-Kolder, a researcher at VU University, Netherlands.

The virtual CBT group—which showed no adverse effects—went on to use fewer "safety behaviours".

"With the development of and mobile technology, the range of tools available in psychotherapy is expanding," Kristiina Kompus of Bergen University said in a comment also carried by the journal.

Explore further: Virtual reality training may be as effective as regular therapy after stroke

Related Stories

Virtual reality training may be as effective as regular therapy after stroke

November 15, 2017
Using virtual reality therapy to improve arm and hand movement after a stroke is equally as effective as regular therapy, according to a study published in the November 15, 2017, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal ...

Study finds virtual reality can help treat severe paranoia

May 5, 2016
Virtual reality can help treat severe paranoia by allowing people to face situations that they fear, an Oxford University study with patients from the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust has found. The virtual reality simulations ...

Virtual reality helping to improve healthcare

January 29, 2018
A virtual reality colonoscopy developed by researchers at the University of Sheffield could help clinicians to detect abnormalities in the digestive system.

Virtual reality videos may help alleviate pre-surgical anxiety in children

October 4, 2017
A virtual reality tour of the operating room prior to anaesthesia helped reduce preoperative anxiety in children scheduled to undergo surgery who took part in a clinical trial published in the BJS (British Journal of Surgery).

Magnetic fields to alleviate anxiety

September 13, 2017
It is possible to unlearn fears. And this works even better when a specific region of the brain has previously been stimulated magnetically. This has been shown by researchers from the Würzburg University Hospital in a new ...

Recommended for you

People with family history of alcoholism release more dopamine in expectation of alcohol

May 23, 2018
People with a family history of alcohol use disorder (AUD) release more dopamine in the brain's main reward center in response to the expectation of alcohol than people diagnosed with the disorder, or healthy people without ...

Why we fail to understand our smartphone use

May 23, 2018
Checking your phone dozens of times a day indicates unconscious behaviour, which is "extremely repetitive" say psychologists.

Study confirms that men and women tend to adopt different navigation strategies

May 23, 2018
When navigating in a known environment, men prefer to take shortcuts to reach their destination more quickly, while women tend to use routes they know. This is according to Alexander Boone of UC Santa Barbara in the US who ...

Early life trauma in men associated with reduced levels of sperm microRNAs

May 22, 2018
Exposure to early life trauma can lead to poor physical and mental health in some individuals, which can be passed on to their children. Studies in mice show that at least some of the effects of stress can be transmitted ...

Training compassion 'muscle' may boost brain's resilience to others' suffering

May 22, 2018
It can be distressing to witness the pain of family, friends or even strangers going through a hard time. But what if, just like strengthening a muscle or learning a new hobby, we could train ourselves to be more compassionate ...

Study finds popular 'growth mindset' educational interventions aren't very effective

May 22, 2018
A new study co-authored by researchers at Michigan State University and Case Western Reserve University found that "growth mindset interventions," or programs that teach students they can improve their intelligence with effort—and ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.