If you experience extremely intense anxiety when it comes to participating in everyday activities such as socializing with friends, going to school, or visiting a local store, then we highly recommend you seek out a therapist who participates in an ongoing clinical trial for this new medical technology known as gameChange, a revolutionary psychological therapy that uses Virtual Reality (VR).
Initiated in July 2019, gameChange is a groundbreaking therapy project for patients with schizophrenia spectrum disorders and psychotic symptoms that allows users to experience daily situations through VR simulations in different social settings right from the comfort of their homes.
It is not approved for marketing by the FDA as of now but is favorably supported by multiple clinical trials and is quickly proving to be a promising treatment option.
Am I a Good Fit?
Here is how gameChange VR Therapy changes the lives of those suffering from psychosis:
- Reduces symptoms of anxiety
- Reduces symptoms of paranoia
- Enables users to manage distress in daily situations
- Improves quality of life for individuals who
- are 18+
- have schizophrenia
- spectrum disorders
- have an affective diagnosis with psychotic symptoms
- have trouble leaving their homes due to anxiety
You’ve probably heard of VR – Virtual Reality. VR is most commonly used in games and entertainment. But have you heard of VR in Medicine? That’s right, you didn’t read that wrong.
Of all the areas that technology has entered and conquered, it’s truly remarkable to see the revolution it has brought to the healthcare industry. What seemed impossible a decade ago, is very much a reality today. The possibilities seem endless, and this is exactly what makes technology one of the most impactful assets in the medical world today.
Before we jump onto the invention, let’s talk about the need that inspired its creation.
Did you know that only 5% of people experiencing psychosis receive psychological therapy and that therapy rarely addresses social withdrawal?
Talking about psychological disorders was once considered taboo, but now the scale of these problems is no longer a secret. And sometimes medications or routine psychotherapy are just part of the solution.
Patients with psychosis or other mental health disorders struggle with intense anxiety when it comes to participating in day-to-day activities. Even a trip to the grocery store can be no less than a nightmare. Such anxiety can lead to agoraphobia, which is the fear of leaving home. This can result in disrupted lifestyles and relationships, ultimately worsening the quality of their lives.
In this regard, gameChange has proven itself to be revolutionary, enabling psychosis patients to receive psychotherapy for their anxiety symptoms right from the comfort of their safe spaces.
But here’s the fun bit: it’s an immersive, VR-based therapy.
Sounds exciting? That’s because it actually is!
How Does it Work?
All the therapy requires is that users simply put on the headset and use handheld controllers, and that starts the therapy sessions – no computers, cables, or cameras. The entire session is guided by a virtual therapist, psychologist, psychiatric nurse, or trained peer that offers support whenever needed.
The user goes through an immersive journey of six sessions, each of which allows them to practice interacting with people in simulated social situations, such as visiting a shop, taking the bus, or walking down the street. (Reminds us of The Sims…)
The overall objective of VR therapy is to help individuals with extreme anxiety engage more in their community.
There is a growing body of scientific literature to support the claimed benefits of gameChange. Below are some examples:
- In a study conducted between July 2019 and May 2021, a total of 346 patients were enrolled to compare the effectiveness of gameChange with conventional care. 174 patients were randomly assigned to gameChange VR and 172 to the usual care-alone group. When compared, it was deduced that the gameChange VR therapy group had significant reductions in agoraphobic avoidance. The greater the severity of the anxiety, fear, and avoidance, the greater the treatment benefits. When the occurrence of serious adverse events was compared between the two groups, no significant differences were found. (Freeman et al)
- Another study concluded that the gameChange VR therapy was welcomed with great enthusiasm in psychiatric wards. It was considered that its benefit could include building confidence, reducing anxiety, and bridging the gap of differences between being in the hospital and being in the community. The participants were particularly impressed by the immersive quality of gameChange and its virtual coaches. (Brown et al)
- The side effects of VR-based therapy were categorized under three factors:
- Difficulties in concentrating while wearing the headset
- Feeling a sense of panic when using VR
- Worries about correctly following VR
However, none of these side effects were associated with the number of VR sessions, therapy outcomes, or psychiatric symptoms. (Freeman et al.)
- Another study concluded that data from user testing indicated that gameChange VR therapy is easy to use and engaging. (Lambe et al.)
Is gameChange FDA Approved?
gameChange Virtual Reality Therapy was granted the Breakthrough Device Design designation by FDA in June 2022. The FDA offers this status to new technologies that provide more effective treatments or diagnoses for life-threatening or irreversibly debilitating diseases and conditions.
As of yet, it is not approved for marketing by the FDA in the United States. The VR-based therapy device is still in clinical development in ongoing clinical trials since its fairly new. However, it has already been tested in the largest-ever randomized controlled trial of VR mental health. This means that not every mental health provider can prescribe this novel treatment. Patients who are interested in exploring this treatment must enroll in a “clinical trial” that involves rigorous testing criteria.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can VR help with social anxiety?
Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET) has been found to be an effective treatment for social anxiety. People who stutter are more likely to experience social anxiety.
How is virtual reality being used to help people with anxiety?
Virtual Reality Therapy for Anxiety Disorders or Stress
VR therapy is a fully immersive experience that can encourage nervous system regulation – from an anxious fight-or-flight state to a parasympathetic state of calm and ease.
What disorders is virtual reality therapy used for?
VR treatment has been shown to effectively treat anxiety, PTSD, phobias, and depression.
What is the virtual reality therapy method?
Virtual reality therapy (VRT) is a type of therapy that combines specially designed computers, visual immersion devices, and artificially constructed surroundings to provide patients with a simulated experience that can be used to diagnose and cure psychological issues that cause patients problems.
gameChange VR-based therapy is OxfordVR’s brainchild, a company that works with leading hospitals and mental healthcare institutions in the United States and the United Kingdom, dedicating their efforts to help improve the quality of life for patients with serious mental health conditions.
While drugs can only help suppress/treat anxiety symptoms, therapies like these can actually help patients face their fears and win the battle. And they don’t even have to step out to do so!
In fact, the clinical trials went on to show that patients that used VR therapy had greater reductions in their agoraphobia and distress levels than those who continued with their usual treatment plans. The best part? Six months after the trial, the improvements were still present!
It seems to be an exciting development in the treatment of some of the most challenging mental health problems. So if you, too, are willing to get ahead of your challenges and want to experience life to the fullest, we highly recommend that you talk to your therapist about enrolling in one of the ongoing clinical trials.
- Automated virtual reality therapy to treat agoraphobic avoidance and distress in patients with psychosis (gameChange): a multicentre, parallel-group, single-blind, randomised, controlled trial in England with mediation and moderation analyses.
Freeman D, Lambe S, Kabir T, Petit A, Rosebrock L, Yu LM, Dudley R, Chapman K, Morrison A, O’Regan E, Aynsworth C, Jones J, Murphy E, Powling R, Galal U, Grabey J, Rovira A, Martin J, Hollis C, Clark DM, Waite F; gameChange Trial Group.Lancet Psychiatry. 2022 May;9(5):375-388. doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(22)00060-8. Epub 2022 Apr 5.PMID: 35395204
- Automated Virtual Reality Cognitive Therapy for People With Psychosis: Protocol for a Qualitative Investigation Using Peer Research Methods.
Bond J, Robotham D, Kenny A, Pinfold V, Kabir T, Andleeb H, Larkin M, Martin JL, Brown S, Bergin AD, Petit A, Rosebrock L, Lambe S, Freeman D, Waite F.JMIR Res Protoc. 2021 Oct 25;10(10):e31742. doi: 10.2196/31742.PMID: 34694236
- Automated Virtual Reality Cognitive Therapy (gameChange) in Inpatient Psychiatric Wards: Qualitative Study of Staff and Patient Views Using an Implementation Framework.
Brown P, Waite F, Lambe S, Jones J, Jenner L, Diamond R, Freeman D.JMIR Form Res. 2022 Apr 12;6(4):e34225. doi: 10.2196/34225.PMID: 35412462
- Feasibility and Efficacy of Virtual Reality Interventions to Improve Psychosocial Functioning in Psychosis: Systematic Review.
Schroeder AH, Bogie BJM, Rahman TT, Thérond A, Matheson H, Guimond S.JMIR Ment Health. 2022 Feb 18;9(2):e28502. doi: 10.2196/28502.PMID: 35179501
- Virtual reality interventions and the outcome measures of adult patients in acute care settings undergoing surgical procedures: An integrative review.
Wang S, Lim SH, Aloweni FBAB.J Adv Nurs. 2022 Mar;78(3):645-665. doi: 10.1111/jan.15065. Epub 2021 Oct 10.PMID: 34633112