Séminaire parallèle 6
Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy in Palliative Care: A Case Series

A. Seiler1, M. Schettle1, S. Wicki1, S. Christ1, M. Amann1, G. Theile1, M. Feuz1, C. Hertler1, D. Blum1 (1Zürich)


Patients in palliative care often experience a variety of physical symptoms and significant psychological distress, such as depression, anxiety and an overall poor quality of life. Isolation due to SARS-CoV-2 infection can increase distress. The COVID-19 pandemic emphasizes the need for alternative ways to provide palliative care and support patients and their family during the end-of-life phase. Virtual reality (VR) opens a variety of therapeutic options to improve symptom burden in patients with advanced diseases.


This study aims to evaluate the feasibility and acceptability of VR therapy exposure therapy in a population of palliative care patients.


In this single-site case series, we report on six palliative care patients undergoing virtual reality exposure therapy. The VR exposure therapy consisted of one session ranging between 20 to 60 minutes depending on the patient’s needs and the content chosen for the VR sessions. The Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (ESAS) and the Distress Thermometer (DT) as well as a semi-structured survey were performed pre- and post intervention.


Overall, VR exposure therapy was well accepted by all patients. Five out of six patients reported having appreciated VR exposure therapy. There was a considerable reduction in the total ESAS score post treatment (T0 ESASTot = 27.2; T1 ESASTot = 18.8) as well as distress (T0 DTTot = 4.4; T1 DTTot = 3.8) However, some patients were more tired after the intervention. There were individual differences of perceived effects using VR exposure therapy.The semi-structured survey revealed that some patients felt a temporary detachment from their body and were able to experience the VR session as a break from omnipresent worries and the hospital environment (“I completely forgot where I am”).


Our preliminary results demonstrate that VR exposure therapy is a viable treatment option that appears to be acceptable, feasible and safe for use within a palliative care population. Future clinical trials are warranted to better understand therapeutic effects of VR use.