Virtual reality to treat combat trauma

BBC News is reporting on a AAAS presentation on how virtual reality is being used to treat soldiers who have suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after combat.

Symptoms of PTSD include intrusive memories, pathological avoidance of things related or loosely-related to the trauma, and persistent arousal.

Cognitive behaviour therapy or CBT is one of the most effective treatments for PTSD.

Among its key methods is to slowly reintroduce the person to things associated with the trauma, while dealing with the negative thoughts that are triggered by the situation.

This is relatively straightforward if the person was traumatised by a car crash, as cars, roads and traffic are readily available.

If the person was traumatised by war, however, it is not always feasible to expose the person to ‘low level’ combat conditions as it may be too dangerous, or the person may have been taken out of the combat zone already.

Virtual reality is a possible way of doing this without putting the soldier at risk, while being realistic enough to treat the condition.

This research is part of a project led by Dr Albert Rizzo, which was the subject of a 2005 NPR radio programme which explored the treatment and its benefits.

While the project has been running for a while, the AAAS presentation contained the latest results, which reportedly suggest a promising outcome for soldiers treated with this method.

Link to BBC News story ‘Virtual treatment for US troops’.
Link to NPR programme ‘Virtual Reality Therapy for Combat Stress’ (with audio and video).

One Comment

  1. Posted February 26, 2007 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    What an exceptional idea to treat PTSD. However, I am bit surprised it had not been thought of sooner, considering that we have had much of the technology for years and, as you already mentioned, it is unequivocally safer than exposure to any form, including the lowest level, of combat conditions. One of the reasons I believe that this treatment may be more beneficial than traditional imaginative therapy to a soldier suffering from PTSD, is due to the extensive amount of detail involved in creating this “Virtual Iraq.” In case your readers didn’t know, the realism factor of this program is truly astounding. It includes a fully rendered three-dimensional environment with impressive graphics and sound; powerful subwoofers are placed under the soldier’s chair to create movements and vibrations; and a system allows for odors to be dispersed which include: gunpowder, cordite, burning rubber, burning smoke, diesel fuel, Iraqi spices, barbecued lamb and body odor. As you can probably tell, I am very excited about the possibilities of this new treatment. Hopefully this technology can help alleviate the distress of our affected soldiers.


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