The "transformative" virtual reality treatment involves placing patients in uncomfortable virtual simulations such as riding the London Underground.
The mental health clinics of the future could soon sport virtual treatment rooms, as a new study shows how VR can treat severe paranoia for the first time.
The Medical Research Council-backed research has been carried out by researchers at Oxford University who said the “transformative” virtual treatment resulted in “major reductions in paranoia”.
Paranoia, the irrational fear that others are trying to harm you, is often associated with patients who have conditions like schizophrenia, and is experienced by 1-2% of the population.
People who suffer from paranoia often find it difficult to be in environments with other unknown individuals, making simple tasks that involve leaving the house incredibly distressing.
Now scientists have found that patients who role-play uncomfortable situations, like travelling on public transport, in virtual reality can overcome their mistrust of others, not only in VR, but in the real world.
The Oxford University study, published today in the British Journal of Psychiatry, used placed patients in two different virtual reality simulations: one on the London Underground, and another in a shared elevator.
A total of 30 patients took part, each trialling the treatment for 30 minutes.