Treating PTSD with Virtual Reality

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatments have taken various forms over time, including medication, exercise, and various therapy techniques. One of these techniques, called exposure therapy, is often perceived as one of the most effective ways to treat PTSD. After recreating the patient’s traumatic experience in a controlled and imaginary environment, therapists can safely provide the patient with repeated exposure to their traumatic experience. In theory, the more the patient is exposed to this traumatic stimulus, the less anxiety it will invoke. This process of lessening the effect of a stimulus with repeated exposure is known as habituation.

Such processes have been conducted on individuals suffering from PTSD in relation to the Vietnam War. The simulation titled “Virtual Vietnam” was created to allow veterans to relive the war in virtual reality. 10 veterans volunteered to be part of the first experiment done with this simulation, and all of them showed great improvement. Similar studies conducted to treat individuals who were traumatized by 9/11 also had success with use of virtual reality.

Ex-Marine Jimmy Castellanos can attest to the power of virtual reality in treatment of PTSD. His treatment aimed to address PTSD resulting from events in the Iraq War, incorporating animated explosions and other aspects of warfare. Castellanos was given a model rifle to hold, and even had startling air blasts administered to his neck to make the experience even more real. Despite experiencing extremely strong emotions, often crying incessantly, 13 weeks of treatment resulted in drastic improvement to Castellano’s condition of living. He went from habitually checking bathroom stalls for bombs and dreaming of Iraq every night to living a normal life- due in large part to virtual reality mediated therapy.

Source: NBC