Virtual reality can reduce paranoia in psychotic patients

Virtual reality can reduce paranoia in psychotic patients

A therapy that combines virtual reality with traditional treatments can reduce paranoia and anxiety in people with psychotic disorders, scientists reported Friday.

According to clinical tests performed on 116 patients in the Netherlands, exercises with virtual reality technology made the subjects’ social relationships less tense, the scientists wrote in The Lancet Psychiatry.

More evidence is needed to confirm the long-term benefits of this type of technology, which simulates being in a reality full of other virtual avatars.

Up to 90% of patients with psychosis have paranoid thoughts, which leads them to perceive threats where there are none.

As a result, many patients avoid public places and contact with people, so they spend a lot of time alone.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in which patients receive help to overcome problems that seem overwhelming, helps reduce anxiety, but does little to control paranoia.

A group of scientists led by Roos Pot-Kolder, an expert from the VU University of the Netherlands, extended the use of this method to a virtual environment.

For the test, the 116 participants received a traditional treatment, with antipsychotic medication and consultations with the psychiatrist, but only half of them also practiced social interactions in a virtual environment.

The treatment consisted of 16 sessions of one hour duration, in a period of between eight to 12 weeks. The patients were exposed, through virtual avatars to social situations that would provoke fear and paranoia in four scenarios: the street, the bus, the cafe and the supermarket.

The therapists could alter the amount of avatars, their appearance and whether the responses already recorded to the patient were neutral or hostile.

The experts also advised the participants, helping them explore and test their own feelings in different situations.

The participants were evaluated at the beginning of the test, at three months and at six months.

The study revealed that exposure to virtual reality did not increase the time participants spent with other people, but the quality of interactions did.

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