Background Virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) is currently being used to treat social anxiety disorder (SAD); however, VRET's magnitude of efficacy, duration of efficacy, and impact on treatment discontinuation are still unclear. Methods We conducted a meta-Analysis of studies that investigated the efficacy of VRET for SAD. The search strategy and analysis method are registered at PROSPERO (#CRD42019121097). Inclusion criteria were: (1) studies that targeted patients with SAD or related phobias; (2) studies where VRET was conducted for at least three sessions; (3) studies that included at least 10 participants. The primary outcome was social anxiety evaluation score change. Hedges' g and its 95% confidence intervals were calculated using random-effect models. The secondary outcome was the risk ratio for treatment discontinuation. Results Twenty-Two studies (n = 703) met the inclusion criteria and were analyzed. The efficacy of VRET for SAD was significant and continued over a long-Term follow-up period: Hedges' g for effect size at post-intervention,-0.86 (-1.04 to-0.68); three months post-intervention,-1.03 (-1.35 to-0.72); 6 months post-intervention,-1.14 (-1.39 to-0.89); and 12 months post-intervention,-0.74 (-1.05 to-0.43). When compared to in vivo exposure, the efficacy of VRET was similar at post-intervention but became inferior at later follow-up points. Participant dropout rates showed no significant difference compared to in vivo exposure. Conclusion VRET is an acceptable treatment for SAD patients that has significant, long-lasting efficacy, although it is possible that during long-Term follow-up, VRET efficacy lessens as compared to in vivo exposure.
ASJC Scopus subject areas