It is hoped that this new virtual therapy could be used alongside cognitive behavioural therapy to help people with social anxiety practice how to behave in social situations.
In a trial run, researchers at UEA invited six young men who were recovering from psychosis and also had debilitating social anxiety to take part in the new therapy.
Each participant stood in front of a screen at the same time as being filmed from a different angle. The real-time footage was then projected onto the screen showing a range of social situations. This way the participants could watch themselves participate in the situations from a ‘third person’ perspective.
The men were then encouraged to practice things they would usually find difficult, such as making small talk and eye contact. It was hoped that the screen would help the participants notice any anxious behaviours they displayed and then give them a chance to change them by rehearsing them over and over again.
Dr Lina Gega, of the university’s Norwich Medical School, said: “People with social anxiety are afraid that they will draw attention to themselves and be negatively judged by others in social situations. Many will either avoid public places and social gatherings altogether, or use safety behaviours to cope, such as not making eye contact. We wanted to see whether practising social situations in a virtual environment could help.”
One participant said the virtual therapy increased his confidence about going to the pub with friends from 30% at the beginning, to 50% at the end of the trial.
To find out more about anxiety and how a counsellor could help, please visit our Anxiety page.
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