BACKGROUND: Negative symptoms are typically observed in people with schizophrenia and indicate a loss or reduction of normal function (e.g. reduced motivation and affect display). Despite obstructing people's recovery, intervention development has received limited attention. This study tests the feasibility and acceptability of a novel Virtual Reality Supported Therapy for the Negative Symptoms of Schizophrenia (V-NeST).
METHOD: A single (rater) blind randomised study with two conditions; V-NeST plus treatment as-usual (TAU) vs. TAU alone, recruiting people with schizophrenia experiencing debilitating negative symptoms. Assessment was at baseline and 3-month post-randomisation. The pre-specified primary outcome was participants' goal attainment, secondary outcomes were negative symptoms and functioning. The study assessed feasibility and acceptability parameters including recruitment, eligibility, treatment adherence and retention. Acceptability was also evaluated qualitatively using a post-therapy feedback interview. Explorative therapy effect on outcomes was estimated.
RESULTS: The study recruited to its pre-specified target of 30 participants (15 randomised to V-Nest). Two participants in each trial arm disengaged and did not complete the study. Therapy engagement for those randomised to V-NeST was appropriate and research procedures were feasible. The experience with therapy and VR was described as positive and useful. Preliminary analysis suggested the therapy may have a large effect on participants goals and a possible effect on negative symptoms.
CONCLUSION: V-NeST is a feasible and acceptable intervention. This therapy has the potential to support people with schizophrenia achieving their recovery goals and may reduce negative symptoms. The efficacy results need to be evaluated in an appropriately powered efficacy study.