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Military Doctors Using VR To Treat PTSD

Military Doctors Using VR To Treat PTSD

July 28, 2006 | By Jason Dobson

A new report from the Associated Press has investigated the use of virtual reality and specially tailored game scenarios as a way of treating post-traumatic stress disorders, or PTSD.

The topic, also covered in an exclusive report by Serious Games Source in May, involves guiding patients - namely soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan - through a virtual environment designed to simulate "distressing experiences" like those experienced in a war.

The goal of the treatment is to help those affected by these experiences to cope with what they witnessed, which the report notes if left untreated can "lead to flashbacks, other psychological ailments, and social problems."

"The idea being to be in the high-stimulus environment for a long period of time, maintaining low psycho-physiological arousal," commented Dennis Wood, a doctor at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, California where the treatment is currently being tested on noncombat personnel. "The person then can take that learning in the therapeutic environment and transport it out or generalize it to day-to-day life."

The report noted that the treatment is part of a larger $4 million project funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) that began in April 2005 in order to test virtual reality treatments for a variety of personnel. In addition, the report noted that the project could soon incorporate not only visual stimulus, but also smell and even touch as well, and that a version of the treatment, this one aimed at combatants, is currently being distributed.

Some of these treatments, according to the report, make use of technology that has been used in video games, such as Full Spectrum Warrior, a tactical military game developed in conjunction with the Army, of which a separate version was used in actual Army training.

"Looking at the video-game industry in general as a source of help and innovation is at least one of my big goals," noted Commander Russell Shilling, program manager at the Office of Naval Research. Shilling also worked as the sound designer for America's Army.

You can read more on this topic, as well as additional quotes from those working on and used virtual reality to help treat PTSD in the full report.

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