French patient Denis Duet wearing a virtual reality headset undergoes a VR therapy session
French patient Denis Duet wearing a virtual reality headset undergoes a VR therapy session

Virtual reality therapy could help people with depression to be less critical and more compassionate towards themselves, a study has found.

More than half of the patients using the immersive therapy reported improvements in their mental health, with several experiencing a marked drop in the severity of their condition.

In the study patients were given a headset and asked to express compassion towards an upset child, reassuring the virtual youngster until it stopped crying.

After a few minutes the patients took the place of the virtual child and saw the adult deliver their own compassionate words and gestures back to them.

Researchers at UCL and ICREA-University of Barcelona tested the therapy in 15 patients with depression aged 23-61. Nine reported reduced depressive symptoms a month after the therapy, of whom four experienced a clinically significant drop in depression.

The findings have "huge potential" to revolutionise the treatment of depression, said study co-author Professor Mel Slater.

Additionally, study lead Professor Chris Brewin said:

By comforting the child and then hearing their own words back, patients are indirectly giving themselves compassion.

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