The US military is famous for employing emerging technologies to assist or replace its professionals on battlefields and beyond. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, psychiatrists at the Department of Defense are now testing a virtual reality system as a therapy tool to address the causes of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Currently, psychiatrists use what is known as “exposure therapy” to have the soldiers repeatedly recall the events that led to the development of PTSD. Many of the soldiers, though, find it difficult to recall the events and to synthesize them in their imagination effectively during therapy sessions. To overcome this problem and to bring a bit of the original reality back, a program called Virtual Iraq is currently being trialed as an aid to traditional imagination based exposure therapy.
Army Medicine reports:
The congressionally-funded medical research study is the first randomized clinical trial that uses active-duty military diagnosed with combat-related PTSD to compare VRET results to traditional “imaginal” prolonged exposure therapy, and to a control group that waits five weeks for any type of treatment.
The study’s sample size is 120 servicemembers to complete the three types of treatment options. Treatment sessions for each type of therapy last about 90 minutes, said Dr. Greg Reger, the chief of T2’s Innovative Technology Applications division.
Patients undergoing VRET still explain to the therapist what happened that caused the trauma, but are exposed to a variety of computer-generated stimuli with the program “Virtual Iraq.” VRET is designed to promote a multi-sensory emotional connection to the memory, thus helping the patient be able to gradually face the traumatic experiences that underlie his or her distressing memories after a number of treatment sessions.
This connection is facilitated by having the patient put on a head-mounted display (over-the-eyes video glasses) and either ride or drive in a simulated convoy, and Reger matches the scenario to the event. Or a Soldier will be given a dummy M-4 with a mounted game controller and conduct a dismounted patrol, and Reger could simulate gunfire.
Reger can customize the simulation experience ensuring ample control of the exposure to the programmed situations – changing weather conditions, terrain, helicopter flyovers, types of attack; even add in Muslim prayer call.
Press release: Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy to combat PTSD…