VR helping to treat anxiety and social difficulties

How to simulate difficult social situations? PRIMA clinic for child and adolescent psychiatry from Handen (nearby Stockholm) found the solution - virtual reality. Their psychologists and patients introduced recently VR in the official therapy. First results are very encouraging.

Camilla Söderberg, psychologist from the PRIMA clinic was together with her colleagues looking for long for safe and adequate tools to go through real life situations with her patients. Their difficulties include all types of anxiety disorder, ADHD, autism spectrum. All kids and adolescents for whom social interaction is challenging. They require support in learning how to respond, react, ask for help.

“We first learnt about virtual reality in anxiety therapy a few years ago at a clinic in New York and this year we bought our first VR headsets and produced the first 360 degrees videos” - said Camilla Söderberg. “It is still the beginning, but we’re already receiving many positive reactions from patients, parents, psychologists. Patients who could not have done the therapy before can do it now with VR” - admits Söderberg.

PRIMA, together with film producers, created over 20 simple life scenarios in the classroom, store, street, workplace - wherever patients can safely practice adequate behaviour or reaction. Before it was difficult for them to enter into real life situations. Usually they didn’t. The scenarios and the video content have different levels of difficulty which could be easily controlled by the therapist.

Examples of situations are paying in a store, speaking in front of the class, taking public transport and chatting with peers. This provides an opportunity for both exposure to anxiety-creating situations and social skills training. The use of filmed situations gives the patient the opportunity to practice the same situation repeatedly in a safe environment as well as the opportunity to develop their social skills. The purpose is that this should lead to a reduced avoidance of situations such as school, shopping center, social contexts and public transport among the target group.

The clinic decided to use 360 degrees video without any interaction. The solution is much cheaper than producing an advanced application. Moreover they consider this tool as more effective in such therapy on emotions, closer to reality.

Therapists are very positive about using this tool since now they can greatly expand the scope of treatment methods. At the beginning their concerns clustered around technical management of the VR headsets. After a few workshops and implementation of the Showtime VR software solution to manage the headsets from a tablet, the psychologists got into it. Thanks to Showtime VR a therapist just holds a tablet with which he / she can fully control the VR headsets, the playback, start, stop the video, look at the live preview. The patient is not stressed with managing the Oculus, Pico or any other hardware.

This is the future of medicine, it’s increasingly popular in Sweden. Even in the form of sending the VR headsets to patients’ homes. We test it in one clinic and we’re now implementing the solution in 4 other clinics in Stockholm” - added Söderberg.