Groundbreaking Clinical Trial to Evaluate Virtual Reality-Based Psychotherapy for Depression in Youth

Groundbreaking Clinical Trial to Evaluate Virtual Reality-Based Psychotherapy for Depression in Youth

To improve the psychological counseling young people with depression receive, a clinical trial led by Montesano and Guillem Feixas, a professor in UB’s Faculty of Psychology and UB’s Neuroscience Institute (UBNeuro), will assess new methods.

Using the virtual reality tool alongside therapy can provide added value for young people, as it can improve adherence to treatment and increase the appeal of psychotherapy. Image credit: Stella Jacob, Unsplash

We are talking about figures that reach up to 60-80% of young people, including those diagnosed with mild symptoms. And the numbers have likely increased with the pandemic. Symptoms are mild in most cases, but we know that the sooner these problems are treated, the less likely they are to persist long term or get worse.

Adrián Montesano, researcher and professor, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Open University of Catalonia

The purpose of the study is to determine whether personal construct therapy is effective for young adults (18 to 29 years old) who experience mild to moderate depressive symptoms. It will also investigate whether using it with a new advanced virtual reality application makes it more effective.

The Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation is funding the trial.

Personal construct therapy is primarily concerned with how people construct their reality, and the meaning they give to the things that happen to them and the people around them. This is the first trial carried out applying it specifically to young people with depressive symptoms.added Montesano.

Its effectiveness will be compared to cognitive-behavioral therapy, which serves as a benchmark since it mainly focuses on observable behaviors.

Virtual reality applications have also been tested in exposure therapies to cure various phobias.

This is the first time they have been researched in the treatment of depression and in psychotherapy in general.added Montesano.

The University of Barcelona developed the pioneering application, named EYME. The method uses information from a previous interview to transform the meanings and significant figures of the person’s identity into a 3D space represented by spheres and words.

Montesano said:It is possible to accompany the person on a journey through their mind, through their universe of meanings and personal values, promoting therapeutic conversation. The algorithms it uses are based on work that has been done for two decades, and we believe it can have added value in young people, for whom it can improve adherence to treatment and the attractiveness of psychotherapy.

The patient’s participation in psychotherapy is one of its cornerstones. In general, different forms of psychotherapy have shown similar rates of effectiveness, but about 35% of patients stop receiving medical care before it is deemed complete. The number of alternatives would increase if the clinical trial reached its goal.

It is crucial to be able to personalize the treatment according to your personal preferencesMontesano remarked.

The trial has already started and the first patients are being seen at participating universities in addition to clinics and hospitals linked to the project. There will be 225 patients involved and enrollment will continue through early 2023.

Young adults ages 18 to 29 with mild to moderate depressive symptoms are candidates; as part of the study, they will benefit from “free therapy sessions of high scientific quality, conducted by expert professionals”, according to Montesano. The project website contains a registration form for volunteers.

Montesano concluded, “Interventions and research in psychotherapy have traditionally focused on the most severe forms, which has partly led to an under-representation of young people. Today, we know that the sooner the problem is solved, the better the long-term results, so we must reverse the trend. It’s already happening in society, and it’s something that needs to happen in research too..”

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3 on good health and well-being is supported by the study.


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