VIRTUAL reality is being used in a new therapy to help people in Oxford with mental health problems overcome social anxiety.

GameChange is the largest ever clinical trial of VR for a mental health disorder and allows people to practise being in everyday situations like ordering in a cafe, getting on the bus or attending a doctors appointment.

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Oxford University's Professor Daniel Freeman, lead researcher on the trial and a Consultant Clinical Psychologist at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The gameChange VR therapy is for people with conditions such as schizophrenia whose fears have caused them to withdraw to such an extent that everyday tasks – such as getting on a bus, doing the shopping, speaking to other people – are a challenge.

"It aims to help patients re-engage with the world and go into everyday situations feeling more confident, calm and in control.”

More than 400 NHS patients across five sites including Oxford will take part in the study, which will last 18 months and is funded by the National Institute for Health Research.

Therapy is provided in six 30-minute sessions, with a virtual coach guiding the person in how to overcome their fears.

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To test how effective it is, half the participants will receive the therapy and half will not. A comparison will then be made to see the impact after first six weeks and then six months.

Professor Freeman said: “We believe that therapy provided in virtual reality can be at least as good, if not better, for some types of mental health problems than the best face-to-face therapies.


“Experience from the games industry suggests that VR therapies can also be much more enjoyable than traditional treatments – ensuring good take-up and ongoing use of the therapy.

"The gameChange trial aims to determine whether the promise of success of VR for mental health is true.”

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The VR therapy being tested has been created by designers and computer programmers working side-by-side with people with lived experience of psychosis.

Dr Thomas Kabir, head of public involvement at mental health Charity The McPin Foundation, explained: "The result is a study that we hope will be relevant, effective, and accessible and which focuses on helping people with day-to-day social situations.”

It is expected that the VR therapy will lead to patients being more able to go into everyday situations, they will experience fewer or less severe psychiatric symptoms, and that patients feel happier.


The trial is being funded by the NIHR i4i mental health challenge award and it is also supported by the NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre.

Martin Hunt, NIHR i4i programme director said it could bring 'very significant benefits' both to individual patients and the NHS as a whole, adding: "We’re really excited about this crucial clinical trial and about the wider potential of VR therapy to help a large number of people re-engage with everyday life.”