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Pilot Study with NHS England’s SBRI Healthcare Programme

Pilot evaluation to assess the feasibility of using the ProReal software in a prison setting and to evaluate the impact it has on participants' levels of psychological distress, interpersonal difficulties and achievement of personal goals.

SBRI Phase 1 logo

Following the successes of the use of ProReal software in commercial settings, we were encouraged by clinicians to explore the potential benefits of using ProReal in healthcare settings. We secured a £100K contract from NHS England’s SBRI Healthcare programme as part of their initiative to find new technology solutions to unmet mental healthcare needs. This ‘Phase 1’ contract allowed us to conduct a pilot study using the ProReal software with a small group of adult offenders who were residents of a therapeutic wing of a category B prison in the north of England.


Over the course of seven weeks, our therapeutic intervention at this Serco-managed prison consisted of six, hour-long, group sessions lead by a qualified counsellor on the prison staff who we trained in the use of the ProReal software.


Dr Biljana van Rijn, Faculty Head of Applied Research and Clinical Practice at Metanoia Institute and Professor Mick Cooper, Department of Psychology at the University of Roehampton designed the evaluation of our study.


Results indicated that using our software improved participants’ capacity to elicit emotional responses and initiate further cognitive processing – both fundamental aspects of improved mental health. The study also produced good preliminary indications that using the ProReal software helps reduce psychological distress and improve general wellbeing.


In addition, participants reported enhanced levels of self-expression, new insights, development of empathy and the ability to build stronger relationships. We were particularly interested that feedback from participants highlighted the importance of early intervention with young people.


This work was commissioned and funded by the SBRI Healthcare programme. SBRI Healthcare is an NHS England initiative, championed by the Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs). The views expressed in the publication are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the SBRI Healthcare programme or its stakeholders.


When I was a kid I didn’t want to listen to some woman from the education welfare or from social services telling me you didn’t listen, you didn’t (do) stuff. I wasn’t interested in what they were saying but, you know, if you are actively doing something in front of you it is a completely different situation, so it’s useful.

Participant, Therapeutic Community Resident

In terms of the actual intervention and use of ProReal as a tool I found that really useful. It’s helped residents, overall, being able to visualise stuff that they carry around in their head. It’s a useful tool to have.

Prison Lead Therapist