Evaluating virtual reality therapy for treating acute post traumatic stress disorder

04/11/05

Arlington, Va.--The Office of Naval Research (ONR) is funding three projects to evaluate virtual reality therapy for treatment of acute post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The three-year, approximately $4-million program will examine how virtual reality can be used by therapists to treat PTSD in military personnel before the disorder disrupts their lives and careers.

ONR program manager Cmdr. Russell Shilling explains, "Our goal is to provide therapists with innovative tools and techniques for early intervention and treatment of PTSD symptoms. Early intervention is key. Virtual reality therapy has proven effective in treating a wide variety of anxiety disorders (including chronic PTSD) and we hope that it will be effective against acute PTSD related to combat. We also hope that this type of therapy, with its videogame-like qualities, will resonate well with the current generation of warfighters." The program is funded through ONR's Medical and Biological Science and Technology Division.

PTSD is of particular concern to the U.S. Department of Defense because its effects can be debilitating. It develops after very traumatic or life-threatening events and can cause flashbacks, sleep problems and nightmares, as well as feelings of isolation and guilt.

James Spira of the Naval Medical Center San Diego will work with Ken Graap of Virtually Better, Inc. (Atlanta) and Dr. Albert (Skip) Rizzo from the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California (Los Angeles) to evaluate tools to treat PTSD in active-duty military members. Virtually Better will help integrate the sights and sounds of combat, as well as smell and other sensory factors. Rizzo is developing a flexible virtual reality toolset for therapists, using assets from the U.S. Army's "Full-Spectrum Warrior" videogame/training application.

Brenda Wiederhold at the Virtual Reality Medical Center (San Diego) will work with James Spira and. Rizzo as well as other experts on PTSD to study the effectiveness of virtual reality for treating acute PTSD in non-combat personnel such as medics and truck drivers. These service members are exposed to their own unique stresses and require different types of virtual reality scenarios.

Researcher Hunter Hoffman at the University of Washington (Seattle) and Sarah Miyahira of the Pacific Telehealth & Technology Hui (Oahu, HI) will work with Raymond Folen at the Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii to examine the effectiveness of using a virtual reality based cognitive behavioral treatment for U.S. warfighters suffering from acute PTSD.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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