Virtual Reality technology to treat agoraphobia approved for use in the NHS

Today, for the first time a virtual reality treatment (VR) has been recommended for use in NHS mental health services.

The automated VR treatment enables patients who are largely housebound with agoraphobia to practise re-entering everyday situations.

Daniel Freeman

Following the largest ever clinical trial of VR for mental health led by Oxford University Chair of Psychology Professor Daniel Freeman, the “gameChange” VR automated therapy programme has been recommended for use in the NHS for the treatment of severe agoraphobia in patients with psychosis, as more evidence is gathered.

The gameChange VR program was developed by a multi-partner team of university, health and industry experts including researchers from Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre (OH BRC) and targets a problem that is common in people diagnosed with psychosis: intense fears about being outside in everyday situations.

logo for Oxford Health Biomedical Research CentreFor many patients, these fears develop into severe agoraphobia where patients avoid leaving the home.  This fear of leaving the home causes serious disruption to everyday life. gameChange is designed to treat this agoraphobia and help patients re-engage with day-to-day activities, taking them from a housebound existence to life back in the world outside, able to continue with education, relationships, working life and socialising.

Agoraphobia is often untreated or undertreated in adults who present with a range of mental health conditions. gameChange can deliver VR therapy using cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques supported by mental health professionals, requiring less time for delivery and easier access to treatment for patients.

Professor Daniel Freeman said:

“gameChange has been designed in collaboration with people with lived experience and can help patients who are largely housebound get back to everyday activities. gameChange was tested in the largest ever clinical trial of virtual reality for a mental health condition – this trial has led to it becoming the first VR therapy recommended for use in the NHS. gameChange can be a way of getting high quality psychological therapy to many more of the people who need it.”

The gameChange research was funded by a multimillion-pound award from the UK Department of Health: the inaugural National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) i4i (Invention for Innovation) Mental Health Challenge Award. It was also supported by the NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre.

All National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommendations relating to gameChange can be found on their website.

Published: 15 November 2023
Last reviewed: 4 January, 2024