Air Force Doctors Use Virtual Reality to Treat PTSD

by Ryan Mattox, Defense Media Activity-San Antonio, 24 April 2009

Mental health therapists and social workers at the David Grant USAF Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., are currently using a virtual reality program to treat service members who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, after returning from combat operations.

“PTSD is an anxiety disorder that occurs sometimes after a person has experienced a traumatic event,” said Capt. Heather Bautista, a social worker in the Mental Health Clinic.

Not everybody who experiences trauma is going to develop PTSD but if this traumatic event is something that you witnessed either yourself or vicariously and you thought that your life was in danger or others were in danger you can develop this. We are helping the patient deal with avoidance. Avoidance is the key to PTSD.”

To help deal with the patient’s avoidance to their situation medical professionals use the virtual reality software, Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy Application for Post Traumatic Stress. The program includes a motion-inducing platform, headphones, a cued-smells generator, a mock M-16 with directional controls/game controller and a virtual reality visor to help veterans relive their situation. The software has been introduced to eight bases in the Air Force.

The system lets warriors re-experience their event under the supervision of a mental health expert and in the safety of a controlled setting in a hospital.

On average, patients are seen once a week by their therapists and use the virtual reality system about 10-12 times for 60 minutes each time at the medical center.


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