Researchers have found that a new approach called Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy resulted in significant reductions in PTSD symptoms for military service members after an average of just seven treatment sessions.
Moreover, researchers report 62 percent of patients who tried virtual reality therapy presented a clinically meaningful, reliable change in PTSD symptoms.
The finding is one of the first to provide evidence of the effectiveness of this kind of exposure therapy and will be presented in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Traumatic Stress.
During the virtual reality treatment, the soldier repeatedly revisits the memory, and by using the imagination they safely access emotions related to the original traumatic experience. Revisiting the memory while safely emotionally engaged reduces anxiety, and allows the engagement process to be comfortably repeated.
According to lead author Dr. Greg Reger, a psychologist at the National Center for Telehealth and Technology, “We know that lengthy military deployments in stressful environments with exposure to multiple, potentially traumatic events can lead to the desire to emotionally ‘unplug.’
“By using multi-sensory virtual reality that can be customized in real time, the provider can help activate the memory with relevant sights, sounds, vibrations, even scents that resemble aspects of the event that is haunting them.”
A clinical trial with Vietnam veterans and World Trade Center survivors has shown the effectiveness of virtual exposure therapy. The current research extends those findings to the population of military service members returning from deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan with PTSD.
“It is possible that virtual reality exposure therapy would provide a more appealing treatment option to a young, technologically savvy generation of service members and veterans,” Reger said. “In addition, it is possible that a treatment option like virtual reality exposure would be viewed by some service members as less stigmatizing than traditional treatment approaches.
“If accurate, virtual reality exposure therapy might provide us with the opportunity to treat service members and veterans who may not otherwise seek help.”