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Front. Psychiatry | doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00792

How to treat depression with low-intensity Virtual Reality interventions: Perspectives on translating cognitive behavioral techniques into the VR modality and how to make anti-depressive use of VR-unique experiences

 Philip Lindner1, 2, 3*, William Hamilton4,  Alexander Miloff1 and  Per Carlbring1, 5
  • 1Department of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Stockholm University, Sweden
  • 2Center for Psychiatry Research, Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden
  • 3Stockholm Health Care Services, Sweden
  • 4Independent researcher, Sweden
  • 5Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Southern Denmark, Denmark

Depression is a common mental disorder with a large treatment gap. Low-intensity, automated Virtual Reality (VR) interventions (not requiring a therapist) is a scalable and promising solution now that VR is an accessible and mature, consumer technology. Yet unlike with phobias, there have been few attempts at translating evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapeutic (CBT) techniques for depression into the VR modality. In this paper, we discuss how specific CBT techniques can be made into VR experiences, including psychoeducation, behavioral activation, cognitive restructuring, and social skills training. We also discuss how VR-unique experiences such as alternative embodiment and virtual pet interactions can be made therapeutic. Creating a pre-clinical and clinical evidence base for these types of novel interventions should be considered a research priority, and high-quality development on par with other consumer VR applications will be essential to the success of any consumer-targeted intervention. If this is achieved, low-intensity VR interventions for depression have great potential to make an impact on public mental health.

Keywords: Depression, virtual reality, Cognitive behavior theory, human-computer interaction, self-help

Received: 05 Jul 2019; Accepted: 04 Oct 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Lindner, Hamilton, Miloff and Carlbring. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Philip Lindner, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Stockholm University, Stockholm, SE-106 91, Stockholm, Sweden, philip.lindner@psychology.su.se