This VR Program Tackles Anxious Social Avoidance

This VR Program Tackles Anxious Social Avoidance
October 2, 2020

What You Need to Know:

– Oxford VR launches social engagement – a first-in-class digital therapeutic using virtual reality technology to tackle anxious social avoidance.


– Anxious social avoidance is one of the most debilitating aspects of multiple mental conditions. Social engagement enables individuals to overcome trigger situations to feel safer, more confident and more in control.


Oxford VR (OVR), a global pioneer developing automated VR therapy announces the launch of OVR social engagement, a ground-breaking and progressive behavioral health intervention using virtual reality technology to help individuals overcome anxious social avoidance, prevalent in multiple mental health conditions including agoraphobia, panic disorder, social anxiety, depression, personality disorders, and schizophrenia.  


As a spin-out from Oxford University, OVR’s work builds on two decades of groundbreaking clinical research by Daniel Freeman, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry. OVR’s automated VR therapy translates evidence-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) through immersive virtual reality environments to provide powerful evidence-based psychological treatments.


Impact of Anxious Social Avoidance

Anxious social avoidance is a major unmet need in mental healthcare. It is one of the most debilitating features of mental illness. Individuals experience extreme distress and fear in public situations – especially when alone – such as going outside, using public transport, or being in a supermarket. For some, it can progress to a point of social isolation and affect overall health in a way that is comparable to the impact of obesity and cigarette smoking.[1]


Anxious social avoidance is also common in individuals with addiction and substance abuse issues. In severe and complex mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, anxious social avoidance leading to isolation is frequently seen.[2] Studies show that women are more likely than men to experience anxious social withdrawal.[3]


How OVR Social Engagement Works

OVR social engagement™ is delivered over half-hour weekly sessions. During a session, the user puts on a VR headset and enters a virtual world where they are guided by a virtual coach and have to complete a series of tasks, graded in difficulty in different environments such as a street scene, a bus, and a shop – reflecting the everyday triggers of anxious social avoidance. Great care has been made to ensure the environments are life-like, interactive, and engaging.


Throughout the program, the user gradually faces problematic situations to overcome extreme distress and fear to feel safer, more confident and more in control. The program is automated and does not require a qualified clinician and can be delivered by a trained member of staff.


The VR environments give people the reassurance they can try out new things safely. By completing the tasks, users learn that they can cope in these situations and the evidence confirms that the behavioral changes made in the VR environments transfer to the real world.[4]


OVR Social Engagement Availability

Oxford VR’s social engagement™ program is now available in the UK to NHS patients via providers of NHS Improving Access to Psychological Therapies, other UK mental healthcare providers and in the US and Asia through Oxford VR’s strategic partners.


“Our vision is to turn the tide on life-interrupting mental illnesses pushing the boundaries of clinical excellence and new technology to transform lives. The immersive nature of VR provides a powerful new way to engage users and helps them to regain confidence, feel safe and overcome trigger situations. This innovative program has been created with the voices and expertise of people affected by anxious social avoidance and applies proven evidence-based psychological techniques,” said June Dent, Director, Clinical Partnerships at OVR.

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