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      Embodying self-compassion within virtual reality and its effects on patients with depression

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          Abstract

          Background

          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.

          Aims

          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.

          Method

          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.

          Results

          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.

          Conclusions

          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.

          Declaration of interest

          None.

          Copyright and usage

          © The Royal College of Psychiatrists 2016. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence.

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          Most cited references20

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          A SELF-RATING DEPRESSION SCALE.

          W W Zung (1965)
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            From presence to consciousness through virtual reality.

            Immersive virtual environments can break the deep, everyday connection between where our senses tell us we are and where we are actually located and whom we are with. The concept of 'presence' refers to the phenomenon of behaving and feeling as if we are in the virtual world created by computer displays. In this article, we argue that presence is worthy of study by neuroscientists, and that it might aid the study of perception and consciousness.
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              Self-compassion and reactions to unpleasant self-relevant events: the implications of treating oneself kindly.

              Five studies investigated the cognitive and emotional processes by which self-compassionate people deal with unpleasant life events. In the various studies, participants reported on negative events in their daily lives, responded to hypothetical scenarios, reacted to interpersonal feedback, rated their or others' videotaped performances in an awkward situation, and reflected on negative personal experiences. Results from Study 1 showed that self-compassion predicted emotional and cognitive reactions to negative events in everyday life, and Study 2 found that self-compassion buffered people against negative self-feelings when imagining distressing social events. In Study 3, self-compassion moderated negative emotions after receiving ambivalent feedback, particularly for participants who were low in self-esteem. Study 4 found that low-self-compassionate people undervalued their videotaped performances relative to observers. Study 5 experimentally induced a self-compassionate perspective and found that self-compassion leads people to acknowledge their role in negative events without feeling overwhelmed with negative emotions. In general, these studies suggest that self-compassion attenuates people's reactions to negative events in ways that are distinct from and, in some cases, more beneficial than self-esteem. ((c) 2007 APA, all rights reserved).
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                BJPsych Open
                BJPsych Open
                bjporcpsych
                bjporcpsych
                BJPsych open
                The Royal College of Psychiatrists
                2056-4724
                15 February 2016
                January 2016
                : 2
                : 1
                : 74-80
                Affiliations
                [1] Caroline J. Falconer, PhD, Clinical Educational & Health Psychology
                [2] Aitor Rovira, MSc, Department of Computer Science
                [3] John A. King, PhD, Clinical Educational & Health Psychology, University College London, London, UK
                [4] Paul Gilbert, PhD, Mental Health Research Unit, University of Derby, Derby, UK
                [5] Angus Antley, PhD, Department of Computer Science
                [6] Pasco Fearon, PhD, Clinical Educational & Health Psychology, University College London, London, UK
                [7] Neil Ralph, DClinPsy, Clinical Educational & Health Psychology, University College London, London, and iCope Camden and Islington Psychological Therapies Service, London, UK
                [8] Mel Slater, DSc, Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain, and Department of Computer Science, University College London, London, UK
                [9] Chris R. Brewin, PhD, Clinical Educational & Health Psychology, University College London, London, UK
                Author notes
                Correspondence: Chris R. Brewin, Clinical, Educational, and Health Psychology, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK. Email: c.brewin@ 123456ucl.ac.uk
                Article
                bjporcpsych002147
                10.1192/bjpo.bp.115.002147
                4995586
                27703757
                ec80fa0c-9267-4c86-a298-d72eccebed45
                © 2016 The Royal College of Psychiatrists

                This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) licence ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

                History
                : 13 September 2015
                : 4 December 2015
                : 21 December 2015
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