Oxford University VR spinout demonstrates significant psychotherapy benefits in Lancet study

Virtual reality can help treat symptoms in patients with psychosis, according to a new study published in The Lancet Psychiatry. 

GameChangeVR automates psychotherapy, guiding users with a virtual coach. It was developed by OxfordVR, a digital therapeutics company, the University of Oxford and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust. In an announcement, OxfordVR claimed to be the first digital therapeutic to successfully show positive results in these types of patients and claimed this to be the largest ever clinical trial of VR for mental health. 

The study, based on 346 patients, found that automated VR therapy led to “significant reductions” in symptoms of anxious avoidance and distress. The technology especially benefited those with severe symptoms. The study concluded that the technology has the potential to increase access to effective care for psychosis.

“GameChange can practically scale clinical outcomes far beyond what was thought possible even five years ago, effectively offering the ability to treat millions of patients with severe forms of mental illness,” OxfordVR CEO Deepak Gopalakrishna said in an announcement. 

“Using today’s affordable and easy-to-use consumer VR equipment, we think GameChange will lead a transformation in the digital provision of evidence-based psychological therapy, with deployment at scale for treatments that really work," OxfordVR’s co-founder and University of Oxford researcher Daniel Freeman said in a statement.

Significant benefits were obtained after six 30-minute sessions, with uptake being very high, per the study. The company said in the announcement patient engagement was at 90%. It is not known if there are long-term benefits beyond the six-month period assessed. 

“With the availability of inexpensive, easy-to-use, standalone headsets, which do not need a computer, we believe that there is now the opportunity to leave VR headsets with patients, which would allow patients to increase treatment time and to use the program at the most opportune times,” the study authors wrote.

One of the benefits of VR is that patients know they are in a simulation, which enables “psychological distance from problematic reactions,” the study authors wrote. “The process of finding the best uses and implementation methods of this immersive technology at scale in mental health is only beginning.”