Originally published by 2 Minute Medicine® (view original article). Reused on AccessMedicine with permission.

1. In this systematic review and meta-analysis, virtual reality (VR) treatments were associated with lower anxiety symptoms when compared to passive control groups.

2. However, in comparison to active controls, VR treatments were not statistically superior.

Evidence Rating Level: 1 (Excellent)

Virtual reality (VR) is a potential treatment option for mental health disorders which may be desirable given the high prevalence of anxiety disorders and the lack of mental health resources. Current meta-analyses on VR applications have not been updated for several years and were limited in the anxiety disorders investigated. As a result, the objective of the present study was to update and review the impact of current VR applications in the treatment of anxiety disorders.

Of 903 identified records, 17 (n=827 participants) studies were included from various databases from April 2011 to April 2021. Studies were included if they were randomized controlled trials and participants had a diagnosed anxiety disorder, received VR as a treatment, and were evaluated using validated self-report measurements and behavioral assessment/avoidance tasks (BAT). Studies were excluded if they were comparing two different VR interventions, if participants did not have a diagnosis of anxiety disorder, or if there was a lack of data from intervention and control groups. The review was performed using PRISMA guidelines. The risk of bias was assessed using the risk of bias assessment tool developed by the Cochrane Collaboration. The primary outcome was the difference in anxiety symptoms between VR treatment and control groups.

The results demonstrated that, compared to passive control groups (e.g., waiting list control groups or psychoeducation), patients who used VR applications had lower anxiety symptoms. However, when compared to active control groups (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or exposure therapy), the benefit of VR treatment did not reach statistical significance. Despite these findings, the study was limited by the heterogeneity of the included studies, which may have affected the results. Nonetheless, the present study provided evidence that VR applications may be an effective treatment for anxiety disorders, especially when the gold-standard treatment is unavailable.

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