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Virtual reality as a treatment for schizophrenia

Research awardPsyIMPACT programme

Funding period2016 - 2019

InstitutionWarwick Medical School

Location United Kingdom

Can we leverage the power of virtual reality to treat schizophrenia? 

The project

Schizophrenia and other illnesses that can cause psychosis often make interacting with others and taking part in everyday activities more difficult. 

And while therapies exist to help people gain confidence in social situations, many involve one-to-one support or group sessions – which people with psychotic illnesses often find difficult.

So Professor Andrew Thompson and his team at the University of Warwick are investigating how new technologies could help. They’re using virtual reality and online virtual worlds to understand how they could help people to benefit from therapy without the need to engage in stressful social situations.

The process

This research project has two phases:

  • In phase one, Andrew and his team will work with virtual reality experts and people with mental health problems. Together they’ll take an existing training package that helps people to feel more comfortable in social situations and recreate it using virtual technology. This might involve designing support so it can be accessed through online virtual world Second Life, for instance.
  • In phase two, our researchers will test this virtual support package with 20 young people. While part of the trial will look at how well the virtual support works, the team will also see if people are happy to use virtual reality and if they complete the training.

The potential

This project will investigate whether virtual worlds can be immersive and realistic enough to deliver effective therapy. It will also explore whether this new technology can benefit a group of people who often struggle to engage with more traditional therapies. 

As such, it has major potential in terms of analysing new technologies and helping to reach more people with innovative mental health treatments.

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