Did we get your attention? The Office of Naval Research has given $4 million to the Virtual Reality Medical Center in San Diego. The funding is for a project to improve upon virtual reality methods for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for war veterans. The current guinea pigs are traumatized veterans fresh from Iraq.
One might ask what they could be doing with virtual reality to help these soldiers. Perhaps they’re sending soldiers to a land where everything is made of chocolate (hat tip: Simpsons). A land with naked women parachuting from the sky? (hat tip: Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). But no! They’ve come up with something even better: sending them back to Iraq.
“Lunacy!” one might say, but research has shown that this method actually works. Supposedly by putting soldiers back in the war environment they give them the opportunity to process their emotions with the assistance of a psychologist/virtual reality therapist. Here’s a snippet from the Businessweek article:
A therapist at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, Calif., Wood monitors patients’ heart and breathing rates and even how much they’re sweating to see the effect of the virtual environments. The aim is to get patients to draw on their meditation training to regain perspective—and stay calm—when a stimulus causes an emotional response. "The idea being to be in the high-stimulus environment for a long period of time, maintaining low psycho-physiological arousal," Wood says. "The person then can take that learning in the therapeutic environment and transport it out or generalize it to day-to-day life."
There may be a great need for PTSD therapy among veterans of the war in Iraq. A 2004 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine estimates that PTSD afflicts about 18% of the troops in Iraq. That study took place early in the war, and the figure now may be higher, says Emory psychiatry professor Barbara Rothbaum. She co-owns Virtually Better, a virtual reality treatment company that has received funding from the ONR to develop and test a version of the therapy. "Things over the past few years have gotten even worse," she says. "I hope we’re wrong, but I think everybody’s expecting probably a higher rate of PTSD." There are currently 127,000 troops stationed in Iraq, according to the U.S. Defense Dept.
The point is not to retraumatize the patients but to allow the individuals to cope with painful experiences. "The concept here is that by doing this in a very modestly paced manner, the person feels little bits of anxiety as they go through this, but not at a level that overwhelms them," says Albert "Skip" Rizzo, a research scientist at the Institute for Creative Technologies. "Eventually they’re actually in the Humvee, driving down the road, and children are by the side of the road, and an IED (improvised explosive device) goes off and there’s body parts everywhere."
Body parts flying everywhere doesn’t sound like the most therapeutic image, but hey, whatever works.
Read the whole article here…