Virtual Reality Helps Cure Paranoia

Researchers at Oxford University say, with the help of Virtual Reality headset, people with severe paranoia can re-learn that they are safe, as their paranoia simultaneously melt away.

The study shows that wearing and interacting with the virtual characters could help paranoia patients overcome anxiety.

In a study, 30 patients who suffered persecutory delusions were given virtual reality headsets and encouraged to step into virtual environments like elevators and subways, so they could learn the social situations they feared were unsafe.

“Paranoia all too often leads to isolation, unhappiness, and profound distress,” said Daniel Freeman, a clinical psychologist at Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry.

According to the study which was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, the patients were split into two groups; patients from the first group were to use their normal defensive behavior, like avoiding eye contact, while those in other group were told to lower their defences, approach and stare at the computer generated characters.

Within 30 minutes, large reductions in symptoms of the patients were recorded, as patients in the second group were no longer suffering from severe paranoia. Also, there was a little reduction in the first group, who used their defences.

Prof Daniel Freeman, told BBC:

“At the heart of paranoia is the unfounded belief that people are under threat.

“With virtual reality we can help the person to re-learn that they are safe, and when they do that, the paranoia melts away.”

“It’s not easy work for patients, since lowering defences takes courage. But as they relearned that being around other people was safe we saw their paranoia begin to melt away. They were then able to go into real social situations and cope far better. This has the potential to be transformative.”

The researchers used specialized Virtual Reality equipment, but the good news is that work is being done to port the scenarios onto consumer headsets.

“As these become more affordable we will see them used not just in clinical settings, but in people’s homes,” Freeman said.

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Kathryn Adcock, head of neurosciences and mental health at the Medical Research Council, said:

“This study shows the potential of its application to a major psychiatric problem. There is a lot of work to be done in testing the approach for treating delusions but this study shows a new way forward.”

Photo: Getty Images – Justin Sullivan

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