Individualized Virtual Reality for Increasing Self-Compassion: Evaluation Study

Ilona Halim, Lehan Stemmet, Sylvia Hach, Richard Porter, Hai Ning Liang, Atiyeh Vaezipour, Julie D. Henry, Nilufar Baghaei*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Depression and anxiety are common and debilitating mental disorders with severe negative repercussions at both individual and societal levels. Although virtual reality (VR) has emerged as a safe and effective tool for the treatment of anxiety disorders, studies of the therapeutic application of VR to treat depression are more limited. Objective: The purpose of this study was to test whether a novel type of individualized VR (iVR) can be used to improve self-compassion and decrease depressive symptoms and to evaluate the usability and acceptability of this approach, as rated by participants. The iVR system was designed and developed based on the feedback obtained from a previous study, with improved appearance and feel of the avatar and enhanced graphical quality. Methods: A total of 36 young adult participants were recruited from a university community social media site. Participants were aware that the study was investigating a treatment for depression but were not recruited based on depression diagnosis. Participants were asked to complete 2 iVR sessions, spaced 2 weeks apart. At baseline and upon completion of each iVR session, participants were asked to complete validated measures of self-compassion and depression. Upon completion of both iVR sessions, additional measures were administered to assess participants' perceptions about the perceived usability and system acceptability of the iVR approach. Results: Self-compassion was assessed at the beginning of session 1 (preintervention baseline) and at the end of session 1 (postintervention assessment). Owing to COVID-19 constraints, 36% (13/36) of the participants were unable to complete the follow-up iVR session. Self-compassion was assessed again for the remaining 64% (23/36) of the participants at the end of session 2 (postintervention assessment). Within-group analyses revealed that self-compassion was significantly increased at the end of both session 1 (P=.01) and session 2 (P=.03) relative to baseline. There was also a nonsignificant trend for depressive symptoms to be low at the end of session 2 relative to baseline. Both quantitative and qualitative participant data supported the iVR approach as being acceptable and usable. Conclusions: Although these data must be treated as preliminary owing to the small sample size and potential selection bias, the data provide encouraging initial evidence that iVR might be a useful tool to enhance self-compassion and reduce depressive symptoms, highlighting the need for randomized controlled trials in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere47617
JournalJMIR Mental Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • depression
  • depressive symptoms
  • individualized virtual reality
  • mental health
  • mobile phone
  • self-compassion


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