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February Edition 2020

Oxford VR: Immersive technology for mental health


Emotional and mental health is important because it’s a vital part of your life and impacts your thoughts, behaviors and emotions. Being healthy emotionally can promote productivity and effectiveness in activities like work, school or caregiving. It plays an important part in the health of your relationships, and allows you to adapt to changes in your life and cope with adversity. Mental health is integral to living a healthy, balanced life. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

Oxford VR is a spin-out from Oxford University built on two decades of research and innovation by Professor Daniel Freeman. The company’s focus is on developing evidence-based automated VR therapy to treat mental health conditions with significant impact on patients, the health system and wider economy. By combining ground breaking research and cutting-edge immersive VR therapy, the company can provide millions of individuals with high-quality mental health treatment which users report is fun and enjoyable to do, and is also faster and more effective than traditional treatments and can be delivered at a significantly lower cost to health providers.

How they help

The company develops psychological interventions based on proven treatment protocols and deliver them using immersive technology. The treatments are automated and use a virtual coach to enable greater access to cost-effective and high-quality therapy. In VR it can create powerful simulations of the scenarios in which psychological difficulties occur. Averaging at just two hours of treatment, the company’s immersive therapy has been proven to be successful in reducing patient’s fears by 68%. So far, they have completed programs to treat fear of heights and boost social engagement. Looking forward, work is underway to tackle the full range of psychological disorders, particularly those that are most complex, costly and debilitating.

How their therapeutic approach works

The company builds treatments using state of the art immersive technology. It knows that the most effective treatments are active: patients go into the situations they find difficult and practise more helpful ways of thinking and behaving. This is often impractical in face-to-face therapy, but easily done in VR. It takes a cognitive therapy approach, basing therapeutic techniques on a tested theoretical model of each problem. The automated therapy is therefore tailored for each condition, with its efficacy demonstrated in clinical trials.

Automated simulation

OVR therapy is automated using a virtual coach for therapy delivery, standardising clinical excellence and adherence to protocol with genuine ease of use.

Experience on demand

In VR it can create powerful simulations of the scenarios in which psychological difficulties occur, providing a safe space to try new behaviour.

Learning that translates 

Despite a simulated environment, the mind and body behave as if it were real. This means that the lessons learned in VR transfer into everyday life

Problems they are tackling with their solutions

Fear of heights

Fear of heights is a significant clinical problem, estimated to affect 3-5% of the population. Averaging at just two hours of treatment time, our immersive therapy has been proven to be successful in reducing patients’ fears by an average of 68%, demonstrating the huge potential of auotmated VR treatments. In the VR program to tackle fear of heights, therapy is delivered by a computer-generated virtual coach using protocoled, evidence-based cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). The ground-breaking VR therapy is now available in the UK to NHS patients through the NHS IAPT service (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies).

Social engagement

The social engagement program has been developed to help people feel safer and more confident in social situations. During the therapy, users are guided by a virtual coach through a graded series of tasks in environments that reflect everyday situations. The immersive VR technology allows the user to experience situations they find troubling in a safe and controlled environment. By completing the tasks, users learn that they can cope in situations and the results transfer to the real world. The social engagement program implements proven, evidence-based psychological techniques.


Psychosis is a serious mental health disorder which can affect individuals’ thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Led by the University of Oxford and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, the company is an integral collaborator in gameChange, a £4 million project funded by the UK National Institute of Health Research (NIHR).

gameChange comprises of three main stages. First is the design and development of the VR treatment. Oxford VR will produce a six-session automated treatment that’s easy to use, engaging, and right for patient needs. Stage two is a large multi-centre clinical trial in NHS trusts across the UK to demonstrate the benefits of the VR treatment. The third part of the project is the implementation package and roadmap to roll out the treatment across the NHS.

Meet the CEO, Barnaby Perks

Barnaby joined Oxford VR as Founding CEO in March 2018 to lead the company’s commercial and technical development. Barnaby has some of the most extensive experience in creating value from digital technology in mental health conditions, having spent the previous seven years as Founding CEO of Cambridge -based Ieso Digital Health. He built the company from its initial clinical trial into the UK’s leading provider of live online cognitive behavioural therapy, delivering evidence-based mental health therapy services in multiple NHS contracts and also to Medicaid patients in the US. Barnaby holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering and Economics and an MSc in Biomedical Engineering, both from the University of Dundee.

“Our mission is to deliver evidence-based psychological treatments using state-of-the-art immersive technology.”