Since 2008, The NHS has delivered some of the best psychological treatments in the world through the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies scheme. Yet because of a shortage of trained therapists, demand continues to outstrip supply.

There is another way. With virtual reality (VR), we can get the best interventions to many more of the people who urgently need them: on-demand therapy, accessed when and where patients want. And at lower cost than traditional therapy.

VR has never been so sophisticated, easy to use and affordable. There is substantial evidence that VR can be at least as effective as face-to-face therapy for many conditions. In recent years, we’ve seen excellent results in clinical trials for people with problems including fear of heights, PTSD, chronic and acute pain, and psychosis.,, VR is a means of delivering rapid, lasting improvements.,

The most effective way to treat mental health problems isn’t just to talk about them; it involves going into the situations we find difficult and learning new ways of responding. With VR, patients can experience simulations of those challenging situations repeatedly and safely.

With virtual reality (VR), we can get the best interventions to many more of the people who urgently need them.

We can also do things with VR that aren’t possible with standard therapies. For example, we can create innovative scenarios that are both therapeutically powerful and engaging for users. And by embedding a virtual therapist in the programme, we can free treatment from its dependence on scarce real-life clinicians.

With VR, a revolution in psychological treatment becomes possible. The best VR therapy is both clinically effective and cost-effective. Virtual coaches can be deployed at scale and are popular with patients. To unlock this potential, we need both to continue to fund clinical research into VR and—most importantly—create dedicated implementation sites across the NHS to determine how best to provide VR to patients.

This isn’t to say that we can do away with therapists. Skilled and compassionate practitioners delivering evidence-based treatments will always be needed. But if there is to be a coordinated response to the current crisis in mental health care, VR therapy must surely play a part.

This article was originally published as part of Minister for the Future in partnership with Prospect. Illustrations by Ian Morris. You can read the original feature on the Prospect website.