ZonMw mental health care fellowship for UMCG research about VR-therapy for hearing voices

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UMCG researcher Chris Geraets receives a €300.000 mental health care fellowship from ZonMw. In the coming 5 years she will use this grant to develop a virtual reality therapy called VR-VOICES for auditory verbal hallucinations (AVH) - hearing voices that others cannot hear. In the Netherlands, about 9% of the population experiences auditory verbal hallucinations at some point during their lifetime. Many people experience the voices as distressing, making them anxious or down.

Reducing distress and frequency of AHV with VR-VOICES

Participants allocated to VR-VOICES create together with their therapist a VR digital representation (avatar with face, body and voice) of the voice that bothers them most. Patients have dialogues with the avatar, voiced by the therapist. As indicated in the treatment protocol, over the sessions the avatar will become less hostile and the participant will gain more power and resilience over the avatar, and thus the voices they hear.

Geraets hypothesises that VR-VOICES reduces the distress and frequency of AHV and clinical symptoms and improves the quality of life more compared to treatment as usual. ‘I hope and expect that after the VR-treatment people experience a reduction in frequency of the voices and that hearing voices cause less distress. This fellowship gives me the possibility to use creative and innovative technology to improve therapy in mental health care.’

VR-VOICES can be implemented in existing VR systems that are currently used in Dutch mental health care.