The i4i Mental Health Challenge Award: Immersive virtual reality to transform the lives of patients with psychosis
PhD DClinPsy CPsychol FBPsS
Professor of Clinical Psychology
- Lead, Oxford Cognitive Approaches to Psychosis (O-CAP)
- National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Senior Investigator
- Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust
- Founder of Oxford VR
- Fellow, University College Oxford
- Fellow, British Psychological Society
The purpose of my work is to make significant advances in the understanding and treatment of mental health disorders, particularly the problem of paranoia. Drawing on a variety of approaches, including epidemiological studies, psychological experiments, clinical trials, and a ground-breaking virtual reality laboratory, I use the theoretical knowledge to develop carefully tested psychological treatments that will truly make a difference.
At the moment several randomised controlled treatment trials are in progress. This includes a test of a new targeted, personalised psychological treatment for persecutory delusions, called the Feeling Safe Programme. This is a translational treatment built upon advances by my research group in the theoretical understanding of paranoia. The target is a recovery rate of 50% for persecutory delusions that have not responded to previous treatment. There are also a number of studies running that will lead to a greater understanding of the causes of psychotic experiences. The research is supported by the National Institute of Health and Care Research (NIHR), UK Medical Research Council (MRC), and the Wellcome Trust.
I pioneered the use of virtual reality (VR) to assess, understand, and treat paranoia. Subsequently I have led work designing and testing new automated VR psychological therapies for mental health disorders. The aim is to produce VR therapies that produce greater clinical effects than face-to-face therapies. I founded and am a non-executive board member of Oxford VR, a spinout company from the University. Oxford VR built on my research into the use of virtual reality to understand and treat psychological disorders. I founded the company in 2016 with Jason Freeman, Mel Slater, Bernhard Spanlang, and Mavi Sánchez-Vives.
I’m also committed to making knowledge of the best psychological research and treatments for mental health problems available to the general public. Therefore I’ve written a number of popular science books on mental health issues. The latest to appear is The Stressed Sex: Uncovering the Truth about Men, Women, and Mental Health, which sets out to answer a simple, but crucial, question: are rates of psychological disorder different for men and women? This important issue has been largely ignored in all the debates raging about gender differences.
I studied natural sciences at the University of Cambridge, completed a PhD and a doctorate in clinical psychology (DClinPsy) at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, then held a Wellcome Trust Fellowship and a Medical Research Council Senior Clinical Fellowship. In 2011 I moved to the University of Oxford and set up the Oxford Cognitive Approaches to Psychosis (O-CAP) research group. From 2015-2020 I was an NIHR Research Professor. I am the recipient of the 2020 British Psychological Society Presidents' Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychological Knowledge.
Recent open access papers
Comparison of a theoretically driven cognitive therapy (the Feeling Safe Programme) with befriending for the treatment of persistent persecutory delusions: a parallel, single-blind, randomised controlled trial