How Virtual Reality Can Help Cure PTSD Among Soldiers
Studies show that about 20% of deployed soldiers return from battles with PTSD, and only half of those receive treatment that is considered “minimally adequate”, be it due to the effectiveness of the treatment itself or the reluctance of soldiers to seek help.
In recent years, a literal game-changer has been introduced to fix this: virtual reality. Parents everywhere might believe video games rot your brain, but the fact is – in moderation – there are many benefits gaming can yield: improved multitasking, strengthened hand-eye coordination and even reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression.
This last point has especially interested Dr. Albert Rizzo, the brains behind Bravemind: a VR tool that helps treat soldiers with PTSD. Rizzo found that environments that simulated the battlefield they left behind could be therapeutic. Thus, his team made an accurate virtual recreation of Afghanistan and Iraq’s war zones. Technology allowed them to offer the patient a complete sensory experience – covering sight, sound, touch and even smell. Meanwhile, a trained therapist walked the patient through the simulation, whilst using equipment to monitor heart and brain activity.
But what good would this do? Can this actually help treat an ailment as sensitive and complex as PTSD?
The short answer is: it can!
Bravemind utilises what is known as Exposure Therapy. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, it is “one of the best-validated interventions for PTSD”. It does not simply make patients relive traumatic experiences, but rather serves to combat avoidance behaviours as a result of trauma.
Constantly avoiding triggers that remind a person of their trauma means the brain never has the chance to process it, and by extension – recover from it. This worsens the symptoms of PTSD. Letting a patient face the trauma they have experienced, knowing they are in a safe and controlled environment, facilitates the recovery process.
In fact, the use of Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET) is not a new, uncertain form of treatment. Various trials in the past have gathered empirical evidence for the efficacy of such a technique. One two-year trial found that some patients saw an improvement in their PTSD symptoms of almost 40%.
The fact is Bravemind is simply one example of a highly effective and promising treatment. It is not the first and, as technology evolves to further capabilities, broadening what is possible, it certainly won’t be the last.
Written by Riona Jensen
Edited by Amanda Y