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Virtual Reality Therapy Can Augment Depression Treatment

Extended reality may enhance expectation or placebo effects of behavioral activation

By Lori Solomon HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, May 13, 2024 (HealthDay News) — Extended reality-enhanced behavioral activation (XR-BA) may be a feasible, noninferior, and acceptable enhancement to traditional BA for major depressive disorder (MDD), according to a study published online April 15 in JMIR Mental Health.

Margot Paul, Psy.D., from the Stanford University School of Medicine in California, and colleagues examined whether XR-BA was feasible and efficacious in treating MDD in an ambulatory telemedicine clinic. The analysis included 26 participants with MDD who were randomly assigned to XR-BA (brief three-week, four-session evidence-based psychotherapy intervention) or traditional BA.

The researchers found no adverse events were reported in either group, and there were no substantial differences in dropout rates or homework completion. Compared with traditional BA, XR-BA was statistically noninferior. Both groups showed a statistically significant decrease in the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) and clinical severity from the beginning of session 1 to the beginning of session 4. Between the phone intake and the beginning of session 1, there was a significant decrease observed in PHQ-8 to PHQ-9 scores for the XR-BA group but not the traditional BA group.

“These results indicate that XR may help to destigmatize mental health care and reduce barriers to individuals seeking care,” Paul said in a statement. “Clinicians could use XR as a treatment tool to help motivate clients to actively participate in their psychotherapy treatment by completing ‘homework’ that is novel, fun, and accessible.”

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