A virtual reality-integrated program for improving social skills in patients with schizophrenia: a pilot study.
Rus-Calafell M., Gutiérrez-Maldonado J., Ribas-Sabaté J.
BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Social skills training (SST) intervention has shown its efficacy to improve social dysfunction in patients with psychosis; however the implementation of new skills into patients' everyday functioning is difficult to achieve. In this study, we report results from the application of a virtual reality (VR) integrated program as an adjunct technique to a brief social skills intervention for patients with schizophrenia. It was predicted that the intervention would improve social cognition and performance of patients as well as generalisation of the learned responses into patient's daily life. METHODS: Twelve patients with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder completed the study. They attended sixteen individual one-hour sessions, and outcome assessments were conducted at pre-treatment, post-treatment and four-month follow-up. RESULTS: The results of a series of repeated measures ANOVA revealed significant improvement in negative symptoms, psychopathology, social anxiety and discomfort, avoidance and social functioning. Objective scores obtained through the use of the VR program showed a pattern of learning in emotion perception, assertive behaviours and time spent in a conversation. Most of these gains were maintained at four-month follow-up. LIMITATIONS: The reported results are based on a small, uncontrolled pilot study. Although there was an independent rater for the self-reported and informant questionnaires, assessments were not blinded. CONCLUSIONS: The results showed that the intervention may be effective for improving social dysfunction. The use of the VR program contributed to the generalisation of new skills into the patient's everyday functioning.