Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy
Project Leader: Albert "Skip" Rizzo
ICT’s virtual reality exposure therapy is aimed at providing relief from post-traumatic stress.
Currently found at over 60 sites, including VA hospitals, military bases and university centers, ICT’s Virtual Iraq/Afghanistan exposure therapy approach has been shown to produce a meaningful reduction in PTS symptoms. Additional randomized controlled studies are ongoing.
Exposure therapy, in which a patient – guided by a trained therapist – confronts their trauma memories through a retelling of the experience, is now endorsed as an “evidence-based” treatment for PTS. ICT researchers added to this therapy by leveraging virtual art assets that were originally built for the commercially successful X-Box game and combat tactical simulation scenario, Full Spectrum Warrior. The current applications consist of a series of virtual scenarios specifically designed to represent relevant contexts for VR exposure therapy, including Middle-Eastern themed city and desert road environments. In addition to the visual stimuli presented in the VR head mounted display, directional 3D audio, vibrations and smells can be delivered into the simulation. Now rather than relying exclusively on imagining a particular scenario, a patient can experience it again in a virtual world under very safe and controlled conditions. Young military personnel, having grown up with digital gaming technology, may actually be more attracted to and comfortable with a VR treatment approach as an alternative to traditional “talk therapy”.
The therapy requires well-trained clinical care providers that understand the unique challenges that they may face with service members and veterans suffering from the wounds of war. Stimulus presentation is controlled by the clinician via a separate “wizard of Oz” interface, with the clinician in full audio contact with the patient. ICT researchers are also adapting the system as a tool for stress resilience training and PTS assessment.
Collaborators include JoAnn Difede, Weill Cornell Medical Center; Greg Reger, Madigan Army Medical Center; Barbara Rothbaum, Emory University; and Virtually Better, Inc.