Virtual reality opens up world of possibilities for PTSD treatment

Veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may find relief with a new and surprising form of therapy. A clinical psychologist at the University of Southern California Institute of Creative Technologies is using virtual reality to treat the condition.

Dr. Albert “Skip” Rizzo spent over a decade designing 14 virtual reality worlds to help veterans deal with traumatic events from their past. Each world mirrors various war zones and can be tailored to a patient’s specific situation. Clinicians can add custom features such as helicopters, missiles and small-arms fire.

The therapy consists of veterans wearing virtual reality headsets. Each session lasts around one-and-a-half hours. The patient talks about their experience with the therapist as they are guided through the simulation.

Virtual reality therapy has its roots in prolonged exposure therapy, a common treatment method for PTSD. It involves the clinician asking the patient to recount the scenario that is affecting them. Rizzo noted virtual reality offers veterans the opportunity to go further by immersing themselves in the situation that elicited the original trauma rather than just relying on their imagination.

With such therapy, the brain gradually alters its response to those traumatic memories. They no longer evoke the same threat and feelings of anxiety.


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