A new project is looking to offer mental health patients in the UK an innovative psychological therapy on the National Health Service (NHS).
The project brings together the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR), the NHS, universities, as well as charities and companies. NIHR has awarded the project £4 million to use VR to help guide patients safely through situations that they find troubling.
The project will be the first time that the technology has been utilised by the NHS.
The treatment involves the use of a virtual coach, that guides the headset wearing user through a number of computer-generated simulations designed to help them practice techniques that help them overcome their difficulties. Patients react better in a virtual environment, as the anxiety of practicing in the real world is removed.
The treatment is completely automated with the virtual coach leading the therapy sessions, meaning that the number of people that can access the therapy.
‘Our project will see one of the most exciting and powerful new technologies implemented in the NHS for the first time” said the project lead, Professor Daniel Freeman from Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry.
‘Virtual reality treatment can help patients transform their lives. When people put on our headsets, a virtual coach takes them into computer-generated simulations of the situations they find troubling.
‘The coach guides the patient through these scenarios, helping them practise techniques to overcome their difficulties. Patients often find it easier to do this work in the virtual world – and they enjoy using our VR applications – but the beauty is that the benefits transfer to the real world,’ said Professor Freeman, who is also a clinical psychologist at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust.
The project will go through three main stages.
The first stage involves design to make sure that the treatment is simple to use, engaging and actually meets the needs of the patients that will be using it. The second stage will involve a large-scale clinical trial in multiple NHS trusts across the country.
The final stage will be a full rollout of the service.
The $4 million comes as the prize of a winner-takes-all competition in which the NIHR looked to reward people to come up with innovative technological solutions to help people with mental health problems.
Source: (University of Oxford)