Can virtual reality be used to combat post-traumatic stress disorder?

Atlanta VA researchers say yes

October 17, 1999
Web posted at: 6:46 p.m. EDT (2246 GMT)

From CNN Corespondent Dan Rutz

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Long after a generation of U.S. soldiers returned from a controversial war, researchers are using virtual reality to help Vietnam veterans overcome lingering psychological trauma.

The malady haunting thousands of vets almost three decades after the end of the drawn-out conflict, is known as post-traumatic stress disorder.

While the images of the war have faded from the memories of many U.S. citizens, they continue to cause problems for some of those who experienced them first hand. Some suffer to the point of dysfunction.



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Now a new approach, being pioneered at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Atlanta, employs the time-honored therapeutic concept that one overcomes fears by confronting them.

In this case, the psychologist's couch is replaced by realistic replication of the war experience.

A virtual reality hood brings back the sights and sounds of the war -- whirling helicopter blades, jungle scenes, the sounds of shells exploding. The goal is to keep the troubled veteran with one foot in the clinic and the other in the combat zone.

"Its not a situation where they're just remembering something that happened thirty years ago," says Dr. David Ready, "they're in it. When they have a nightmare, when the have a flashback, it is real to them.

"The longer they stay with it, the more likely they'll start the process of desensitization, and that's the goal."

The Atlanta researchers are reporting some success. But they say they need more time before offering the treatment elsewhere. They are seeking other troubled veterans to determine whether revisiting a long-past war can bring peace to their present.