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 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 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