The use of virtual reality (VR) in psychotherapy and rehabilitation of psychiatric disorders has become more widespread. The key characteristics of virtual environments for most clinical applications are the enriched experience provided to the patient and the possibility of a high control of the interaction with the tool. This work presents an overview of the scientific papers dealing with current applications of Virtual Reality (VR) in patients with schizophrenia.
A search for articles was conducted using PubMed and PsycINFO with a combination of key words including schizophrenia, virtual reality, cybertherapy and rehabilitation. A total of 30 papers were found that discuss limits and potentiality of using VR in schizophrenia research and treatment. This search yielded several studies in which VR is employed for simulating schizophrenic symptoms or for assessing specific cognitive deficits and social disabilities in schizophrenia. Most of these studies compared the performance of patients with schizophrenia with that of healthy controls.
Two main topics showed the effectiveness of VR in the study and treatment of schizophrenia. The applications of VR in support of neuro-cognitive and social assessment of patients with schizophrenia can improve the accuracy of functional diagnosis. The use of VR environment for analysing psychological correlates and predictors of psychotic symptoms can advance the understanding of the disorder and provide more effective treatment.
Despite many articles highlighted the great potentiality of VR-based rehabilitation treatments only a few specific programs were developed. They could be useful for the rehabilitation of cognitive and social functions through the engagement of patients in complex tasks and situations such as those found in everyday life.