Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Brain Train
06 July 2016

Brain Train

“Someone intends to kill me” said one sufferer of persecutory delusions – the perception of threats in everyday situations. Patients often avoid social contact – such as a commute on a busy tube train – meaning their fears are not easily calmed through experience. As an alternative, virtual reality is being used here to simulate a tube journey, from the moment the doors open (top left) to being surrounded by more and more strangers. Combined with a form of cognitive therapy, patients were gently encouraged to immerse themselves in simulations with more people. This was presented to them as like "getting into cold water" as any uncomfortable feelings slowly reduce "as long as you stay in". Patients reported lower levels of stress and increased confidence after their virtual commutes. This success, and the recent resurgence in virtual reality technologies, could open the doors to similar therapies becoming common in managing anxiety-based conditions.

Written by John Ankers

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