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August 23, 2005

Healing Wounds Of War Through Virtual Reality

road.jpg This is just amazing. Xeni Jardin has done a story about using virtual reality to treat PTSD. The idea is incredibly simple: use a familiar concept - video games - to gradually desensitize combat vets to disturbing stimuli. Using virtual reality, psychologists are able to gently re-train the body not to over-react to the sights, sounds, and even maybe some day the smells of battle:

All I can see in every direction is black smoke, with intermittent darts of flame. And all I hear is gunfire, mortar rounds and the rumbling engine of the fortified tank I'm driving to Falluja.

I'm inside a virtual-reality simulation of a war zone in Iraq. High-resolution goggles cover my eyes and headphones cover my ears.

Seated next to me, tapping out commands on a controller, is Dr. Albert "Skip" Rizzo, a cognitive psychologist and virtual therapy developer with the Institute for Creative Technologies.

At this University of Southern California think tank, Hollywood special-effects pros and game developers come together to develop new immersive simulation technologies for the military. Most are used as training tools, but this time, the goal is to help combatants cope with the personal psychological effects of war in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Developed in 2004 by the Institute for Creative Technologies with the U.S. Office of Naval Research, the VR therapy project has code roots in Full Spectrum Warrior, a first-person shooter originally developed as a tactical training tool for the Army. It was released as a commercial product for Xbox and PC in 2004.

Using the control tablet Rizzo calls the "Wizard of Oz" box, a clinician can select any number of environments -- urban war zone, deserted highway, crowded bazaar -- depending on where a patient's initial trauma event occurred.

Imagine what this could mean to a vet who can't forget the horrors of combat. It gives them some control over learning to retrain their own bodies, using a medium most of them are already familiar with:


One of the patients Spira worked with in the VR therapy trial was a Marine sniper, the sole survivor of an attack in which he witnessed at close range the violent deaths of fellow squad members.

"One of them was cut in half, literally, with machine-gun fire. (My patient) ran out on impulse to help him, and was shot in the arm and leg. He picked up the body, scooped up the intestines, brought him back to their vehicle as the guy looked up at him and spoke, dying. His squad truck headed back with them for safety, and was then hit by IED (improvised explosive device), which killed everyone but him."

The Marine was rescued and transported to a hospital, and eventually returned to the United States, where he started VR treatment with Spira.

"Snipers are very tough in general, and during the session, he kept saying, 'I'm fine.' But I had him hooked up with physiological monitors, and when I asked him to tell the story of what happened, his system went through the roof.

"He flew out of his wheelchair in public once, and started pounding on a guy who said we shouldn't be in Iraq," Spira said. "But over time, as the therapy continued, he became calmer and was able to get along with people better."

I've mentioned before that I've seen firsthand the heartbreak that can result when a warrior needs help, but won't accept it. I spent about an hour after seeing this story in tears. I so desperately wish this treatment had been around a few years ago.

But I can't tell you how thankful I am to Xeni for doing such a great job, and getting this information out in the open where it can do some good. I don't usually ask people to link a post of mine, but even if you don't link this, please, please write about this and make sure the information gets out. You could save a life.


CWCID: Boing Boing

Posted by Cassandra at August 23, 2005 02:19 PM

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» Treatment of PTSD from Chateau D'If
I won't pretend to know much about the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder suffered by fighting men and women. Cassandra at Villianous Company (which is a truly outstanding blog on a daily basis), however, does know more than a few things about it, and b... [Read More]

Tracked on August 23, 2005 10:47 PM


Cassandra, this is indeed a great idea. Sometimes the solutions are right in front of us!
How do you link an article? I am clueless in that regard.
Thanks, Beth

Posted by: beth barnat at August 23, 2005 11:52 PM

Interesting concept...

Posted by: camojack at August 24, 2005 04:01 AM

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