People who struggle with anxiety and depression can be excessively self-critical when things go wrong in their lives.
The therapy, previously tested by healthy volunteers, was used by 15 patients aged 23-61 suffering from depression.
Nine reported reduced depressive symptoms a month after the therapy, of whom four experienced a clinically significant drop in depression severity.
Patients in the study wore a VR headset to see from the perspective of a life-size ‘avatar’ or virtual body.
Seeing this virtual body in a mirror moving in the same way as their own body typically produces the illusion that this is their own body. This is called “embodiment.”
While embodied in an adult avatar, participants were trained to express compassion towards a distressed virtual child.
As they talked to the child it appeared to gradually stop crying and respond positively to the compassion.
“We now hope to develop the technique further to conduct a larger controlled trial, so that we can confidently determine any clinical benefit,” added study co-author professor Mel Slater from ICREA-University of Barcelona.