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Published: 02 August 2022

In conjunction with the Students’ Union, St George’s recently trialled the use of virtual reality (VR) hypnotherapy to help students manage stress.

The feasibility trial gave 15 students a taste of the Livewire Virtual Reality experience, a stress management tool which has been designed to maximise relaxation and reduce tension. The trial took place across three days during the week of 18 July 2022.

The trial involved students engaging with a virtual space around them to focus their attention, and so bring about a change of mindset and enhance the feeling of being in control.

The neuroscience behind the trial is that VR delivery of hypnotherapy allows for exposure to a multi-sensory experience, which can affect active changes of mindset, in a safe and controlled environment.

Livewire is being developed by experts in VR content design and Ursula James, a highly qualified clinical and medical hypnotherapist with over 30 years' experience who has taught clinical hypnosis, and created a programme for learning enhancement, at 15 leading UK medical schools. It builds upon the established elements of hypnosis - an altered state, clear and explicit suggestions for change, and total control for the participants.

Dean for Students, Dr Aileen O’Brien, lead the trial on behalf of St George’s and says:

“The trial is an exciting first stage of research in exploring the potential of VR as an effective tool to help students manage stress.

We’re now looking at how future iterations of the experience may help improve students’ stress, hopefully making VR an effective learning aid.”

- Dr Aileen O'Brien, Dean for Students -

Zillah Watson, co-founder of Phase Space who developed Livewire, added:

“We are delighted to be partnering with a university as forward-thinking university as St George’s, University of London to understand how innovative technology can deliver a step change in mental health support.

“We were overwhelmed by the positive response of those who helped with the study, and delighted that students were happy to return each day.

- Zillah Watson, co-founder of Phase Space -

"We will use the findings from the trial to develop a two-week course which uses VR to support students’ mental health covering areas like focus, confidence and motivation.”

Details of how students can get involved in the next phase of development will be shared in due course.

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