Psious: virtual reality to deal with anxiety disorders
The human brain is one of the most complex systems that exist, but with the passage of time new technologies are emerging that allow us to study its operation and intervene in it effectively. Among these novel proposals are those that have to do with the use of virtual reality, that is, the design and modeling of fictitious environments that we can explore through electronic devices placed in our eyes, ears, etc.
Interview with Xavier Palomer, CEO of Psious
Today we interview Xavier Palomer , CEO and co-founder of Psious, an ambitious project born in Barcelona that aims to bring virtual reality sessions closer to clinical intervention.
What is Psious and how was the initial idea of undertaking this project born?
Psious Toolsuite is the first online platform speci fi cally created for mental health. It is an app designed by psychologists for psychologists who uses virtual reality and 3D technology for the treatment of anxiety disorders.
The project was started by Dani Roig, the other founder, and myself. We met in physics faculty. Dani was afraid to fly and looking for a therapy to heal the idea arose. We wanted to improve cognitive behavioral therapies with something more effective than imagination or in vivo. Today we can say that we are achieving it.
The project was born in Barcelona, where the effects of the economic crisis are still noticeable. To what extent do you find it difficult to pull the project forward from here? How have you experienced the process of seeking financing?
The process of finding financing, not only in Spain, in Europe, was very difficult or almost impossible to obtain financing. We get little at a huge cost. We had to go to the US to look for investors and, fortunately, we did it. A fund from Silicon Valley (San Francisco), Rothenburg Ventures, saw potential in our application and invested. In the round of financing they invested other funds, including CaixaHolding, which is part of La Caixa. The process of seeking funding was very hard and we had to fight against many adversities, but the result has been worth every effort and minute spent.
We have had a hard time starting in Spain, introducing technology in a market such as psychology. We are creating a network of virtual reality experts to learn and improve on this technology applied to treatments of anxiety disorders. With which we have treated more than 1000 patients.
It has long been investigated about phobias and anxiety disorders using resources such as virtual reality. Why has so little been used in clinical intervention?
Think that Virtual Reality is a technology that until today only a few used due to its high cost. 20 years of studies show that VR works in the field of mental health, but it has not been until now when we have been able to take it to consultations at an affordable cost. One of the objectives of Psious is to democratize the RV for treatments and, honestly, little by little we are achieving it. To date, we can say that more than 500 mental health professionals already use this technology in their practice and that more than 1000 patients have already been successfully treated and that we have been in the market for a few months.
Psious has received several national and international awards. How is he doing in the market?
The awards are just the icing on the cake for good results and hard work from our team. The truth is that we are doing well. We are growing very fast. In Spain we can say that we practically have no competition where we have about 350 mental health professionals. In the US it is a bit more difficult to enter because people there prefer to treat themselves with medicines to save money and time, it is another culture and it is always a little more complicated. We have more than 100 in America, and in the rest of the world more than 50. Every day we have a new client, in a very short time we have climbed very quickly.
It is possible that some patients distrust so novel treatments and based on the use of a technology that they do not know. How would you convince them? What are the advantages of virtual reality-based treatments over other forms of psychotherapy?
Surprisingly, it is the opposite. The first thing that transmits them to see the Virtual Reality glasses is motivation, curiosity, laughter, emotion ... there are data that confirm that using this tool the patient has more facility at the time of starting a therapy than with imagination or in vivo . Having the therapist makes patients feel safe. Although their brain makes them believe at times that they are somewhere else, they know that in reality they are safe and protected. They are only exposed to a certain dose of anxiety, always modulated and controlled by the psychologist.Patients are motivated at the time of being treated because most of them want to solve possible problems that do not allow them a full life.
Cognitive behavioral therapy of Virtual Reality is more realistic and, therefore, more effective than therapy by imagination (many people do not have sufficient imaginative capacity to be treated). On the other hand, RV is safer than in vivo exposure (real exposure) that is impractical for recurrent use. With Psious Toolsuite the therapist can control the vitals of the patient through biofeedback and control at all times their levels of anxiety in order to have more precision in the treatment and ensure their well-being.
What kind of training do people have that are directly involved in the design and modeling of the virtual environments used in Psious?
The design of the environments is carried out by psychologists, the designers of Virtual Reality create them and computer engineers upload them to the platform.
Today, with how many "environments" or "scenarios" does the Psious catalog count? At what rate do you have thought that new options will be created?
Taking into account that for each concrete phobia or exercise there is more than one environment, right now we have a catalog of more than 30.
We are going at a very good rhythm. Our production department is growing. Right now we have just launched the first social phobia environment.
What are the next objectives to achieve in the short and medium term?
In the short term, we want to continue growing in Spain, increasing the number of expert psychologists dealing with virtual reality and the number of patients treated with this technology. We want to position virtual reality as one of the most used tools in psychology and for this we need the collaboration of psychologists and professionals in the sector. In the medium-short term we want to extend the product to the entire American continent, from north to south, where we already have several professionals using us and we generate a lot of interest.
In terms of product, we are continually developing new virtual reality environments. A few days ago we launched environments to treat social phobia or train and practice social skills.