Using virtual reality to treat PTSD

Of interest this week are reports of an innovative exposure-based treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder using virtual reality. The Guardian describes the work of Professor Skip Rizzo at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in developing a “virtual Iraq” simulation to assist treatment of soldiers experiencing PTSD. This simulation involves exposure to visual, auditory, tactile, and olfactory stimuli associated with combat scenes in Iraq, with the therapist being able to control the level of exposure through a computer interface. There is a further description of the project here and some video examples of the virtual reality program with this coverage from NPR.

A core component of a cognitive behavioural therapy approach to treating trauma is graduated exposure to stimuli associated with traumatic memories. This can involve actual or imaginal exposure; with virtual reality there could be a “third option” in terms of exposure, especially if the stimuli are difficult to physically access (such as low-level combat scenes).

So far these are initial reports of the treatment approach using virtual reality, with descriptions of benefits for some of the participants. It will be interesting to hear about the results of any controlled research that follows on from this.

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Filed under CBT, Clinical Psychology, cognitive behavioural therapy, Mental Health, Psychology

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