Freely Available Virtual Reality Experiences as Tools to Support Mental Health Therapy: A Systematic Scoping Review and Consensus Based Interdisciplinary Analysis

Paul Best*, Matilde Meireles, Franziska Schroeder, Lorna Montgomery, Alan Maddock, Gavin Davidson, Karen Galway, David Trainor, Anne Campbell, Tom Van Daele

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Objective:
The primary purpose of this article is to review the potential therapeutic value of freely available VR content as an addition to the practitioners ‘toolkit’. Research has shown that virtual reality (VR) may be useful to extend existing guided imagery based practices found in traditional mental health therapy. However, the use of VR technology within routine mental health practice remains low, despite recent reductions in equipment costs.
Methods: A systematic scoping review and interdisciplinary analysis of freely available VR experiences was performed across two popular online databases (SteamVR and Oculus.com). 1785 experiences were retrieved and screened for relevance with 46 meeting the inclusion criteria. VR content was then reviewed for potential therapeutic value by an interdisciplinary panel with experience across a number of therapeutic interventions including, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Rogerian Counselling, Mindfulness based therapies and Family Therapy.
Results: Eleven (22%) of the 50 freely available VR experiences were reported to have therapeutic potential as tools to support routine mental health therapy. These included support with the following mental health issues – low mood, social anxiety, stress reduction and fear of heights. Guidance of a qualified mental health practitioner was recommended in all cases to maximise the benefit of the VR experiences retrieved.
Conclusions: While the quality is variable, freely available VR experiences may contain valuable content that could support mental health therapy. This includes as a homework activity or as an initial setting for case formulation and behavioural experiments.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Technology in Behavioral Science
Publication statusAccepted - 24 May 2021

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