GMMH delivers virtual reality therapy for service users with severe social anxiety and avoidance
By Kate Kelly, gameChange Peer Support Worker
GMMH are proud to be delivering gameChange Virtual Reality therapy through five mental health teams across the Trust. gameChange therapy uses a virtual reality (VR) headset where clients enter simulations of everyday situations, such as a café, shop, doctor’s surgery or shopping centre.
Clients are prompted by a virtual therapist to practise noticing thoughts, feelings, and defences, replacing them with more positive beliefs and behaviours. A member of staff then assists clients to apply this learning in real world situations outside of VR therapy sessions.
GMMH are delivering this pilot project to understand the feasibility of implementing VR therapy for psychosis and severe social anxiety and avoidance, within wider clinical services.
This follows a randomised controlled trial, which involved 346 participants and nine NHS trusts, delivered in collaboration with the University of Oxford, and the University of Oxford spinout company, Oxford VR. Findings showed that Virtual Reality Therapy led to reductions in anxiety and distress in everyday situations compared with usual care alone.
Research Clinical Psychologist, Elizabeth Murphy, has worked on gameChange therapy through its development; she discusses the core underpinnings of VR therapy in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) approaches:
“GameChange helps people to test out social fears and reduce avoidance behaviours in a safe and controlled virtual environment. People are more willing to overcome avoidance in virtual reality because they know it’s not real. However, the environments still feel real and anxiety provoking. The learning therefore transfers to the real world, and people can enter more social situations in their everyday lives.”
The involvement of people with lived experience has been crucial throughout development of gameChange therapy at trial, and implementation stage.
The different scenarios within the headset, were co-designed by the Lived Experience Advisory Panel (LEAP), comprised of people with personal experience of psychosis.
LEAP also favoured peer support workers to aid in the delivery of VR therapy to service users. Service User Researcher, Heather Peel has worked on gameChange from the beginning:
“It has been a privilege to be involved in such an innovative trial and exciting to continue with the pilot project. Service users have always been at the heart of gameChange development, from designing scenarios, delivery of the virtual reality therapy, and having oversight in trial processes.”
Trafford Early Intervention (EI) Service has recently created two new posts for Peer Support Workers, responsible for aiding the delivery of gameChange therapy, within their team. Clinical Lead, Rory Allott notes the importance of creating roles for people with lived experience:
“Employing people with lived experience of psychosis in early intervention embodies everything that EI is about. Peer support workers offer a role model for recovery. They provide a powerful means of challenging the stigma associated with psychosis.”
gameChange VR therapy is an innovative intervention that has the potential to create meaningful change in the lives of service users experiencing extreme distress in managing everyday situations.
GMMH hopes to understand the feasibility of this intervention on a wider scale, working with multiple teams to discern the benefits for staff members and clients more broadly.