Oxford VR puts patients with social anxiety into virtual scenarios with new program

The program puts patients in virtual social situations, and a virtual coach guides them through tasks.
By Laura Lovett
02:29 pm
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Photo credit: Oxford VR

A company out of Oxford, England is looking to help patients curb social anxiety with a new virtual reality tool. Dubbed OVR social engagement, the tool was designed to treat a variety of mental health conditions associated with these types of anxiety, including agoraphobia, depression and schizophrenia.

The program is pitched as a way to help patients with social anxiety by immersing them in virtual social situations, such as a grocery store or a bus ride. Users are guided through the scenarios by a virtual coach, who will give them instructions on tasks to complete that mirror potential situations. The program is based on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). The sessions are a half an hour and are meant to be accessed once a week. 

“Our vision is to turn the tide on life-interrupting mental illnesses pushing the boundaries of clinical excellence and new technology to transform lives,” June Dent, director of clinical partnerships at OVR, said in a statement. “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.”

WHY IT MATTERS

Social-anxiety disorder is a common condition in the U.S., impacting 15 million adults, or 6.8% of the US population, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. According to the association, individuals living with social anxiety have an increased risk of major depressive disorder and alcohol-use disorder. 

Oxford VR is positioning this tech as a way to work through social anxiety without leaving the house. 

THE LARGER TREND 

Oxford VR has been on the digital health scene since 2007. Most recently it announced a £10 ($12.9) million in a Series A funding round led by Optum Ventures, with support from Luminous Ventures. In February it said the new money would go towards expanding into the U.S. 

Virtual reality is emerging as a popular way to curb anxiety and treat mental health conditions. 

In the fall AppliedVR inked a deal with the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute to research whether or not VR would help anxiety among terminally ill cancer patients. 

At the beginning of March XRHealth launched the first virtual reality telehealth clinic. The new technology is set to bring VR therapy into the patient’s home by combining therapeutic software, telehealth support and a VR headset to deliver remote rehabilitation services. Patients can use this service for a number of conditions, including traumatic brain injury, stroke rehabilitation, stress, anxiety, chronic pain, hot flashes and spinal cord injuries.