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Can virtual reality relieve post-traumatic stress?

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Learn how video-game technology could help veterans overcome post-traumatic stress.

There’s a promising therapy that uses virtual-reality simulation to help treat service members with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to the National Center for PTSD, 10–18% of returning Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) veterans experience PTSD. The good news is that treatments such as virtual-reality exposure therapy (VRET) might help them work through their challenges.

Trained therapists use VRET to re-create stressful events or situations such as combat scenarios in a virtual-reality environment. The patient wears a headset and interactively reacts to possible sights, smells, sounds, and vibrations that have been visually re-created. This makes the experience realistic for the patient as it provides a strong sense of “being there.” Veterans learn to work through emotions such as fear, tension, and anxiety in a safe environment.

Healthcare providers have successfully used virtual-reality simulation as a resilience-training tool too. It helps builds service members’ confidence and coping skills so they feel stronger and ready for what comes next.

Visit the National Center for PTSD to learn more about post-traumatic stress. Here’s what VRET looks like in action.

Virtual reality: game or treatment?

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Virtual reality isn’t just for entertainment anymore—its applications include use by the military to treat symptoms of PTSD and other combat-related injuries.

Virtual reality was first introduced as a therapy tool for people with anxiety disorders such as phobias, but it is now used for a wide range of conditions, from PTSD to childhood ADHD. In fact, it recently warranted its own symposium at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where experts exchanged ideas on the current state of research.

Virtual environments used in therapy sessions are created for the individual’s needs—for example, a noisy classroom for a child with ADHD, the re-creation of the 9/11 attacks for a firefighter or police officer, or “Virtual Iraq” for a soldier. “Virtual Afghanistan” is the newest creation and is already being used to help service members overcome PTSD. Active-duty men and women are gradually brought back to their traumatic event using the virtual world as the therapist provides verbal cues to facilitate the healing process.

With a view to mitigating future need for therapy, a series of episodes is currently being created to provide pre-deployment “Stress Resilience Training for Warfighters.” The goal is to help reduce the risk of PTSD and better prepare warriors for actual scenarios they will encounter in theater.

For more information about how to prevent and manage stress, visit HPRC’s Stress Management section.

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