Groundbreaking virtual reality therapy wins award

By Leila Hawkins
The VR therapy helps users overcome their anxieties in simulated environments...

An immersive technology company has won a UK Digital Experience Award for its VR therapy programme for mental health. 

Oxford VR’s pioneering mental health programme has received the Gold Award for Best Use of Emerging Technology. It is the second year in a row they have won an award in this category. 

The UK Digital Experience Awards (DXA) recognise accomplishments in digital innovation by organisations, teams and individuals in the UK. The Best Use of Emerging Technology is awarded to companies for advances in research and digital innovation. 

Oxford VR received the award for its programme to help people tackle social avoidance based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT is a form of therapy that helps people change patterns of thought and behaviours that can cause depression and anxiety. 

The virtual reality programme helps people overcome their anxieties over social interaction by working through their "triggers". Individuals put on a VR headset and enter a simulated environment or situation that triggers their symptoms. During the session, they are asked to complete a number of exercises that are graded according to difficulty. Meanwhile a virtual coach can help with the responses. 

By working through their triggers in simulated environments, individuals are reassured that they can try new experiences safely and without risk. 

The programme is automated and delivered by a virtual coach. This allows human therapists to be deployed to treat the most urgent cases. 

Arvind Tewari, Chief Operating Officer of Oxford VR, commented on receiving the award: "To be recognised as a Gold Winner in this category is an affirmation that our work is pushing the boundaries of this sector. As the world becomes ever more digital, pushed forward by lockdowns globally in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual platforms will play a larger role in society. It is fantastic to see the innovative work across the DXA finalists, who will be shaping the future of our digital world.” 

Oxford VR was founded in 2017 by Daniel Freeman, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford University. Their mission is to develop cost effective digital solutions for mental healthcare using cutting-edge virtual reality technology.

Their first clinical trial used virtual reality to help people overcome their fear of heights. The trial showed that VR therapy can benefit individuals as well as support healthcare providers with staffing issues. The results were published in the prestigious publication The Lancet in 2018. 


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