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The International Foundation has awarded Professor Daniel Freeman and team in the Department of Psychiatry a £1 million grant to develop and test a virtual reality program to help young people with schizophrenia increase their self-confidence.

Woman wearing a virtual reality headset next to a computer screen © Image produced by the MRC

Professor Daniel Freeman said:

'We are immensely grateful to the International Foundation for their support. Young people with schizophrenia often have low levels of self-esteem. Powerful psychological techniques exist that can help young people overcome negative feelings and enjoy meaningful activities, while building up their self-confidence. The most powerful techniques are those in which patients build up positive self-beliefs through direct experience. Virtual reality is a highly effective and engaging way of providing this experience. Young people with psychosis will be actively involved in all aspects of the project including, crucially, the design of the treatment.'

The International Foundation (IF) is a Swiss, independent and not-for-profit foundation that acts for a more equitable, responsible, inclusive and caring world.

Nina Ingenkamp of the International Foundation said:


'At IF we believe that every human being should be able to exercise their rights and achieve their potential through access to quality education, healthcare, and dignified work. We are therefore thrilled to be able to support Professor Freeman’s efforts to provide much-needed psychological virtual reality therapy to young people living with schizophrenia, as it has the potential to significantly improve their lives.'

The research team will collaborate with the McPin Foundation, which works to ensure that the lived experience of people affected by psychological problems is at the heart of mental health research. The McPin Foundation will recruit a group of young people with psychosis and facilitate their involvement in all aspects of the project. 

The research team includes: clinical psychologists, Dr Laina Rosebrock, and Dr Felicity Waite, computer scientists, Dr Aitor Rovira, Dr Ibrahim Ghaznavi, and Andre Miguel, a VR treatment designer, Jason Freeman, statistician Ly-Mee Yu, and health economist Dr José Leal. The project will run for three years and will include clinical trials of the new treatment.