Integrating a virtual reality relaxation clinic within acute psychiatric services: A pilot study

Simon Riches*, Sarah L. Nicholson, Carolina Fialho, Jordan Little, Lava Ahmed, Harley McIntosh, Ina Kaleva, Tom Sandford, Rebecca Cockburn, Clarissa Odoi, Lisa Azevedo, Ruxandra Vasile, James Payne-Gill, Helen L. Fisher, Catheleine van Driel, Wim Veling, Lucia Valmaggia, Freya Rumball

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


People with acute psychiatric conditions experience heightened stress, which is associated with worsened symptoms and increased violence on psychiatric wards. Traditional stress management techniques can be challenging for patients. Virtual reality (VR) relaxation appears promising to reduce stress; however, research on VR for psychiatric wards is limited. This mixed-methods study investigated feasibility and acceptability of integrating a VR relaxation clinic within acute psychiatric services. The study evaluated a VR relaxation session for inpatients and outpatients with acute psychiatric conditions (N = 42) and therapists’ (N = 6) experience facilitating VR sessions for patients. Self-report assessments of psychological wellbeing were completed by patients pre- and post-VR. Patients and therapists provided qualitative feedback. The number of violent incidents and restrictive practices on the wards in the 12 weeks before VR implementation was compared to the first 12 weeks of VR. Post-VR, there were statistically significant increases in patients’ relaxation, happiness, and connectedness to nature, and decreases in stress, anxiety, and sadness. Qualitative findings indicate patients found sessions enjoyable, relaxing, and helpful. Therapists provided positive feedback but highlighted practical challenges. Violent incidents and restrictive practices halved during VR implementation. VR relaxation appears feasible and acceptable in acute services. Larger studies should evaluate potential impact on psychiatric wards.

Original languageEnglish
Article number115477
JournalPsychiatry Research
Early online date10 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - 4 Oct 2023


  • Cyberpsychology
  • Digital mental health
  • Extended reality
  • Healthtech
  • Immersive technology
  • Inpatient
  • Internet interventions
  • Mental health
  • Mixed methods [20]
  • Outpatient
  • Personality disorders
  • Psychological interventions
  • Psychosis
  • Restrictive practices
  • Stress management
  • Violence and aggression
  • Virtual environments
  • VR
  • Wellbeing
  • XR


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