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Self-criticism is a ubiquitous feature of psychopathology and can be
combatted by increasing levels of self-compassion. However, some patients
are resistant to self-compassion.
To investigate whether the effects of self-identification with virtual
bodies within immersive virtual reality could be exploited to increase
self-compassion in patients with depression.
We developed an 8-minute scenario in which 15 patients practised
delivering compassion in one virtual body and then experienced receiving
it from themselves in another virtual body.
In an open trial, three repetitions of this scenario led to significant
reductions in depression severity and self-criticism, as well as to a
significant increase in self-compassion, from baseline to 4-week
follow-up. Four patients showed clinically significant improvement.
The results indicate that interventions using immersive virtual reality
may have considerable clinical potential and that further development of
these methods preparatory to a controlled trial is now warranted.
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