Oxford VR uses virtual reality to treat social anxiety.

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Oxford VR uses virtual reality to treat social anxiety.




Oxford VR (OVR), a U.K.-based virtual reality (VR) startup that emerged from Oxford University’s

Department of Psychiatry back in 2017, has officially launched a VR-based therapy to help people 

overcome social anxiety.


While VR is still struggling to gain adoption outside of gaming, health care is one area where it has been making

real inroads . OVR builds immersive technology that aims to improve people’s mental health, and last month the

company rased $13 Million to push its offering into health care systems around the world. With its social engagement

VR technology already used by major health organizations like the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS), OVR is

demonstrating one way VR could enter the mainstream.


Our vision is to turn the tide on life-interrupting mental illnesses, pushing the boundaries of clinical excellence and

new technology to transform lives,” said June Dent, director of clinical partnerships at OVR.


Social impact


Social anxiety disorder, which is characterized by an intense fear of social scenarios, is thought to impact around

15 million people in the U.S. alone. It is also closely associated with other mental health conditions, such as

agoraphobia, depression, panic disorder, and schizophrenia. With its social engagement therapy, OVR is using

simulated environments to help people engage with situations similar to those they might encounter in the real world.


OVR social engagement is delivered to patients through weekly half-hour sessions. Each user puts on a VR headset and

is greeted by a virtual coach who asks them to complete a range of tasks, such as traveling on a bus, buying groceries,

ordering from a bar, or going to a doctor’s office. These kinds of situations are common triggers for people with social



The immersive nature of VR provides a powerful new way to engage users and helps them to regain confidence, feel safe,

and overcome trigger situations,” Dent added.


The program, which is designed on evidence-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), was developed by a team of clinicians,

programmers, designers, artists, and animators and builds upon 20 years of clinical research from the company’s cofounder

and chief commercial officer Daniel Freeman, who is also a professor of clinical psychology at Oxford University’s department

of psychiatry.




Perhaps the most important aspect of this approach is that the social engagement therapy is entirely automated, meaning it

doesn’t require the presence of a qualified clinician — the session can be delivered by a staff member who has been trained

to set up the VR headset. Given the affordability of VR headsets today, with an Oculus Go starting at around $200, leaning on

VR as a treatment option will be viable for many health care providers — and could eventually open the door to remote home


OVR’s social engagement therapy is already being deployed by the NHS via its Improving Access to Psychological Therapies

(IAPT) initiative, while a number of private U.K. health care providers are also using the service. Further afield, OVR is

working with the University of Colorado’s National Mental Health Innovation Center , which is deploying the program through

its network of community-focused providers, as well as AXA HK and the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Asia.


Aside from social anxiety disorders, OVR has carried out other clinical trials, including a VR-based treatment for those with

afear of heights  that is now available to some NHS patients in the U.K. The company is also developing similar programs for

treating  depression and OCD, among other mental health conditions.


Oxford VR uses virtual reality to treat social anxiety.