New VR therapy helps schizophrenia patients rehabilitate

Researchers at Semmelweis University in Budapest have tapped into VR to help the rehabilitation process of schizophrenia patients.

According to WHO, the disease affects approximately 24 million people worldwide and is associated with considerable disability, often impacting all areas of life such as personal, social, and occupational functioning.

The scientists have developed the so-called VR-ToMIS therapy method (short for “Virtual-Reality based Theory of Mind Intervention in Schizophrenia”), which aims to enhance the patient’s mentalisation (Theory of Mind) skills — a fundamental component of human cognition and social interaction.

“Theory of Mind is our ability to interpret the feelings, thoughts, and desires of others. Schizophrenic patients tend to decode these messages incorrectly. They often struggle to understand irony and metaphors, or misunderstand certain gestures. Our method aims to improve these skills,” explained Dr Lajos Simon, head of the university’s Reality and Emotion research group.

How does it work?

VR-ToMIS, developed using the software of British startup vTime, consists of nine sessions in total. It starts with an introductory one to familiarise patients with the technology and basic concepts such as the Theory of Mind. Then follow eight 50-minute-long intervention sessions.

In the first step, patients wear VR glasses and become immersed in everyday situations that range from a walk on the beach or a blind date, to moving in with a roommate or meeting a new colleague. In all simulated scenarios, patients interact with an avatar controlled by a therapist. To uncover mentalisation deficits during the interaction, therapists use multiple linguistic tools, including metaphors, irony, humour, and double meaning sentences.

VR therapy schizophrenia