Virtual reality treatment used for PTSD treatment

Researchers in California have come up with a new way of treating post-traumatic stress disorder in combat veterans – virtual reality.

While it may look like a video game, the digital treatment is no toy. It is part of a new, serious effort to help U.S. soldiers cope with the lingering psychological effects of combat that present themselves in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder, or “PTSD.”

The program is the brainchild of U.S. military officials and two prominent psychologists, Albert “Skip” Rizzo of the USC Institute for Creative Technologies and Galen Buckwalter of Pasadena’s Headington Institute, a counseling center for civilian first responders. Hollywood special effects artists also contributed to the program.

“We try to create an environment where someone feels the stress, and give them the tools to emotionally cope with it,” said Rizzo. “Being in such an environment, we believe, can activate emotions that sometimes are repressed.”

“We teach them how to understand what’s going on in their body,” Rizzo explained. “We teach them tactics to help them to manage stress like deep breathing or thought focusing exercises.”

The program works as both a repair and prevention tool for soldiers who face PTSD.

In its effort to repair, the program tries to help soldiers suffering from PTSD in what sounds like an unorthodox way – by putting them back into terrifying and high-stress situations. Only this time, with the help of the virtual reality, they can control their emotions in a safe environment with trained therapists.

“We are not trying to eliminate someone’s emotional response,” said Rizzo. “We are trying to help them cope with hard events better.”

The program, which is also designed to prevent trauma, serves to give pre-deployed military personnel a virtual taste of the high-stress situations that await them in combat so that they can learn coping strategies beforehand

By using virtual reality in advance of combat, soldiers can learn ways to “control the tendency to let their hormones go out of control,” explained Buckwalter.

The simulation is controlled by a programmer who is able to bring up replications of visuals, sounds – and even smells – that are intended to recreate combat zones in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

“My hands definitely began sweating when the combat kicked in,” said researcher assistant Brady Helds after testing the system. “It was loud and intense. I wanted to get out of that area.”

Virtual reality therapy is currently being used at 20 military treatment centers nationwide. The entire program is still being evaluated.

If research turns up positive results, U.S. soldiers both going to combat areas and returning from them may ultimately have a new alley in the battle against PTSD.

Additional story link:
Virtual Reality: A New Therapy for PTSD (www.nbclosangeles.com)

Video:

PTSD: Virtual reality treatment: wwlp.com

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