Virtual Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder

Peter M. Yellowlees, MBBS, MD


June 28, 2017

This is the Medscape Psychiatry Minute. I'm Dr Peter Yellowlees.

People with social anxiety disorder (SAD) fear social interactions, so for them, social exposure as part of a cognitive-behavioral treatment (CBT) program conducted in virtual reality could be an answer. Now a team of investigators[1] from the University of Quebec, Canada, have undertaken a randomized controlled three-arm study of 59 patients to examine whether this approach is more practical than conducting exposure in vivo.

Participants in both active arms received individual CBT for 14 weekly sessions. Improvements were found on the primary (Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale) and all five secondary outcome measures in both CBT groups compared with the waitlist controls. Improvements were maintained at 6-month follow-up, and the researchers concluded that using virtual reality can be advantageous over standard CBT as an efficient, cost-effective, and practical medium of exposure.

From a clinical perspective, this is yet another of the many creative studies demonstrating the potential and effectiveness of a range of health technologies and how they are increasingly allowing us to practice better than we have been able to do in the past. The use of virtual reality is not yet routine but it will be in the future, especially for anxiety disorders and PTSD, and we will soon be able to offer our patients a greater range of therapies that are increasingly accessible from their homes, which will likely eventually become a new standard of practice for all of us.

If you have not explored virtual reality, speak to your children or any younger colleagues and, like me, give it a try. Thank you for listening to this Medscape Psychiatry Minute. Do enjoy your practice.


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