In response to these worrying figures, Breathe Therapies in Preston has become the first North-West clinic to use “ground-breaking” virtual reality (VR) technology to help treat mental health conditions like anxiety, phobias and depression.

The software was launched to allow vulnerable people who have developed phobias of germs, travelling and social situations after being isolated during the pandemic to access support from the comfort of their own homes.

Shelley Perry, clinical director, says research conducted by Lancaster University shows virtual reality software used by mental health experts alongside traditional therapy treatments like CBT has an 83% success rate.

Shelley Perry, clinical director of Breathe Therapies in Preston.

Shelley said: “It’s proven to be 33% more effective than standalone therapy. We know CBT is only 50% effective on its own for any disorder. But now our chances of effectively helping a client has gone from 50% to 83% when we use both treatments together. That’s ground-breaking.”

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She added: “People all over the UK are particularly struggling with phobias, anxiety and depression because of being isolated during lockdown. People are struggling with a fear of change or germs, and low self-esteem. A lot of agoraphobia has come out of the woodwork. They’ve stopped doing things they used to do. Those presentations have increased two-fold since lockdown.”

How does VR therapy work?

The software allows people to gently practice using calming techniques in a simulated stressful situation. They are guided by a trained mental health professional who helps them to unravel and replace unhelpful thinking patterns, build a tolerance of stressors and better cope with triggers.

Breathe even used the technology to help one of their own clinical psychologists overcome her own phobia of travel.

Shelley said: “We were the only virtual reality clinic she could find in the UK. She has a fear of travel but we found it was a symptom of an underlying issue. She didn’t believe in herself and she had imposter syndrome. It was then easier for her to work through the phobia.”

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