Schizophrenia is an especially tough mental disorder to live with. Imagine having your sense of reality shift in ways that make it difficult to deal with real life. One common issue that such people have to deal with is extreme paranoia. The feeling that a situation is dangerous or that something bad is going to happen.
It’s not just people who have schizophrenia who suffer from high levels of paranoia, it’s something that afflicts people from all walks of life for various reasons. Now a new study from Oxford provides evidence that VR-therapy can help reduce the levels of paranoia felt by people with these problems.
VR has been used in therapy for almost as long as VR hardware has been available to purchase. As far back as the early 1990s, cognitive behavioural therapists were already using primitive VR to help people get over crippling fears of things like heights, flying, and spiders.
So it’s not news to hear that VR has applications when it comes to psychological disorders. Apart from treating fear and anxiety, it has also been used to help protect teens against peer pressure. Every day they are finding more issues that can be helped along a bit using some form of VR.
What the Eggheads Say
The research article in question was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry. The study itself used a randomised controlled design to really nail down whether there were any effects from the VR treatment.
The research was led by Professor Daniel Freeman. The main goal of the study was to see if, in principle, people with debilitating paranoia could re-learn that situations that currently trigger high levels of paranoia and anxiety.
Participants were asked, on a random basis, to either stick with their maladaptive defence mechanisms or to use healthier ways of dealing with people under supervision. They were asked to walk up to VR characters, holding their gaze and dealing with larger and larger numbers of people in their space.
The results were rather astounding. Of those who went all the way in testing their fears more than half no longer felt serious paranoia by the end of the day. About 20% of those who were in the group who stuck to their old ways also showed reduced paranoia. This improvement also carried over into the real world with real situations.
This study is just another in a growing body of evidence that indicated the value of virtual reality in a therapeutic setting.