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Virtual Reality (VR) Research Studies

Therapy and Support


In one of the first studies of Virtual Reality Group Therapy (VRGT), ten participants and ten therapists viewed videos and then participated in moderated group therapy sessions in VR. The response of both patients and therapists was “largely positive” with both groups citing the anonymity of avatar as minimizing patients’ social anxiety. Patients also cited the ease of attending a session from home, particularly those with physical disabilities and/or social anxiety. 
In this study, fifteen patients with generalized SAD attended up to 16 VR-CBT sessions. Questionnaires on clinical and functional outcomes, and diary assessments on social activity, social anxiety and paranoia were completed at baseline, post-treatment and at 6-months follow-up. Though treatment in this case was individual-based cognitive and behavioral therapy, results “suggest that VR-CBT may be effective in reducing anxiety as well as depression, and can increase quality of life.”
This chapter of Reference Module in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Psychology examines the clinical potential of VR in the assessment and treatment of mental health diseases. The author examines two recent meta-reviews assessing more than 53 systematic reviews and meta-analyses that support VR’s use in anxiety disorders, pain management, and eating and weight disorders, with long-term effects that generalize to the real world.  
This study was comprised of 79 individuals who reported a mental health diagnosis, previous experience with suicidality, or who self-identified with depression. Participants were placed in a physical room with a VR headset and were able to explore a rich audio and visual experience within that space. The study concludes that “future developments within this area should regard virtual and mixed reality as an accessible, non-medical platform for engaging individuals who reported with lived experiences of distress or mental ill health—potentially for a wide range of users from those with slightly lowered mood to acute presentations.”
This study consisted of a two-arm pilot RCT with a sample of 36 individuals recovering from AUD in a therapeutic community; experimental group participants received a therapist-guided, VR-based cognitive training intervention combined with treatment as usual, and control group participants received treatment as usual without cognitive training. When comparing the two groups, researchers found “a positive impact of the VR training on the cognitive rehabilitation, particularly on attention and executive functions, of individuals with AUD.”
In this study, thirty-six chronic persons with aphasia (PWA) were randomly assigned to two groups. The VR group underwent conversational therapy during VR everyday life setting observation, while the control group was trained in a conventional setting without VR support. Results of the six-month study revealed that “language rehabilitation through an ecologically valid VR system can have a large impact in cognitive and psychological functioning.” Additionally, researchers concluded that “given the importance of a positive psychological state in PWA for motivating their participation in the therapy sessions, we believe that the use of VR, in the near future, should be pursued.”

Soft Skills Development


The study, which intentionally leveraged affordable hardware and psychologists only minimally trained in VR, concluded that “VR exposure therapy can be effective under routine care conditions and is an attractive approach for future, large-scale implementation and effectiveness trials.” Among the studies finding were that patients’ self-reported a “robust” decrease in PSA following VR-assisted therapy and that the “exposure therapy exerted these benefits by reducing patients’ fear of negative evaluation and catastrophic beliefs.” The study also found that “patients rated the quality of their speech performances higher after watching the avatar perform a playback of their speech.”

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