Declaration of interest
S.B. and G.R. are consultants to and own equity in Cliniques et Développement In Virtuo, which develops virtual environments; however, Cliniques et Développement In Virtuo did not create the virtual environments used in this study. The terms of these arrangements were reviewed and approved by Université du Québec en Outaouais, in accordance with its policy on conflicts of interest.
People with social anxiety disorder (SAD) fear social interactions and may be reluctant to seek treatments involving exposure to social situations. Social exposure conducted in virtual reality (VR), embedded in individual cognitive–behavioural therapy (CBT), could be an answer.
To show that conducting VR exposure in CBT for SAD is effective and is more practical for therapists than conducting exposure in vivo.
Participants were randomly assigned to either VR exposure (n = 17), in vivo exposure (n = 22) or waiting list (n = 20). Participants in the active arms received individual CBT for 14 weekly sessions and outcome was assessed with questionnaires and a behaviour avoidance test. (ISRCTN trial registration number: 99747069.)
Improvements were found on the primary (Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale) and all five secondary outcome measures in both CBT groups compared with the waiting list. Conducting exposure in VR was more effective at post-treatment than in vivo on the primary outcome measure and on one secondary measure. Improvements were maintained at the 6-month follow-up. VR was significantly more practical for therapists than in vivo exposure.
Using VR can be advantageous over standard CBT as a potential solution for treatment avoidance and as an efficient, cost-effective and practical medium of exposure.
- © The Royal College of Psychiatrists 2016.