An exciting new research project to help develop and test an immersive mindfulness-based therapy programme, using virtual reality (VR), is being announced this week.

To mark World Mental Health Day on Saturday 10 October, The Retreat has announced a new partnership with start-up Tend to begin research into a new VR product.

The innovative home-based therapy uses VR technology to provide the mindfulness-based therapy.  The Retreat is now seeking volunteers to test the VR mindfulness therapy as part of the research project.

Those taking part will get to use the VR techniques in their own home and will complete a programme of Mindfulness based cognitive therapy over an eight-week period. They will then feedback on the experience as part of the research feasibility study. This first stage of research will be followed by randomised-controlled trials in patients, which if successful, will see the intervention being used in clinical settings. The Retreat also wants to see if this type of therapy can help people with autism.

The partnership between Tend and The Retreat brings together two organisations at different stages in their evolution, both focused on the development of innovative techniques to improve the mental health and wellbeing of people seeking change in their lives.

The Retreat is over 200 years old, but its focus on innovation in mental health has not wavered, seeing the partnership as a real opportunity to invest in the future of mental health.

Dr Kim Bevan, Chief Officer at The Retreat said: “We’re very excited about the prospects for this technology to make a real difference to people’s lives and we are fortunate to have had the opportunity to invest in this development and to work in partnership with the talented Tend team.”

Project lead and Clinical Psychologist at The Retreat, Dr Katja Osswald said: “This a very exciting project and we’re really looking forward to working with Tend. We already know this type of therapy is helpful for people who experience low mood and anxiety, but we want to see if it can be delivered using virtual reality.”

“Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is usually done face to face in a group setting and is proven to be highly effective. It is difficult to do this remotely or with large numbers of people at the same time. It’s also difficult to get people to practice during their daily live, so we’re hoping that this virtual reality therapy will address this challenge and prove successful so we can help more people.”

Matthew Hoad-Robson, founder and Managing Director of Tend, said: “Mindfulness based cognitive therapy is one of the best available treatments for depression. Its effectiveness is supported by years of high-quality peer reviewed research and is a NICE approved treatment. We want to dramatically increase access to this therapy, reduce drop-out rates and improve on the overall efficacy by through gamification, interactivity and immersion.”

Emma Selby, co-founder and clinical lead of Tend and an award-winning mental health nurse specialising in the use of technology as a tool to improve mental wellbeing, said: “Mental Health has never been more important and with a growing demand on services we need to think more creatively about technical enablers of engagement and access to wellbeing tools. We are looking forward to working with UCL to develop future strategies in mental health and to grow the body of evidence needed to create this vital shift in provision.”