VR mental health treatment eases COVID-19 vaccination process for needle phobics

The NHS has launched a free VR-based treatment plan to help patients overcome their fear of needles. 

As the COVID-19 vaccination process continues in the UK, Vita Health Group and the NHS have joined forces to provide patients suffering from trypanophobia – the fear of needles – with techniques and strategies to overcome their fear and thereby increase the percentage of vaccinated individuals in the country.

Initially available to residents of the Basildon, Brentwood, Kent and Medway areas, the sessions are available remotely and are supervised by a trained therapist from Vita Health Group who will guide the patient through the treatment focusing on managing their fear of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Those registered for treatment can self-register by calling 01268 977 171 and will receive a complimentary pair of VR glasses.

This mental health solution aims to gradually increase patients’ exposure to environments related to medical procedures that they would normally avoid.

The VR sessions, created by Psious, a leading VR platform for psychology and mental health, will allow patients to experience computer-generated, three-dimensional environments right from their homes. Part of the treatment involves simulating a waiting room and a real blood test, which will help referral therapists assess and treat patients suffering from distress and anxiety in a safe and controlled environment.

With around 10% of Britons currently suffering from needle phobia, it is highly likely that those affected are refusing the vaccine out of fear, as explained by Philip Adkins, National Clinical Lead for IAPT at Vita Health Group. He went on to explain that phobias can have a very negative impact on people’s lives, but can be successfully treated through a variety of methods, including the innovative use of VR technology which allows for a freer, life in the long-term. 

“The treatment plan has been designed to be delivered remotely and is already proving to be a lifeline for needle phobia patients. The needle phobia treatment plan allows us to help people overcome their fear without having to leave their homes,” he concluded.

In recent years, research has shown that psychological therapy delivered automatically by a VR coach can produce great clinical benefits, as it can significantly increase the supply of treatment for mental health disorders.

The success of VR in mental health therapy is mainly due to the fact that it can seamlessly bridge the gap between real-life exposure and what the patient feels able to do when entering treatment. Particularly for needle phobia, the tool has proved extremely useful as it is complicated to replicate the process of preparing and obtaining an injection in a therapy room, as Vanessa Dodds, a cognitive behavioural therapist (CBT) at Vita Health Group, explains. 

According to the UK Minister for Vaccine Deployment, the administration of a booster injection of COVID-19 followed by annual vaccinations is highly likely. Therefore, managing procedural distress through VR could bring long-term benefits such as improved compliance, which would reduce the likelihood of avoidance in the future, concluded Vanessa Dodds.