Bravemind: Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy

2005 - Present
Project Leaders: Albert "Skip" Rizzo and Arno Hartholt

In use across the country, this project provides relief from PTS through virtual reality exposure therapy. Patients, with the help of clinicians, confront their trauma memories in a virtual world.

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.

This basic and applied research effort has been funded by ONR, TATRC, USAMRMC and the Infinite Hero Foundation. Collaborators include JoAnn Difede, Weill Cornell Medical Center; Barbara Rothbaum, Emory University; and Virtually Better, Inc.

The BRAVEMIND VR Exposure Therapy software was created at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies and has recently been updated to run on the latest state-of-the-art VR equipment. The work was originally supported by funding from the Dept. of Defense (Army, Office of Naval Research, Air Force) and has also received additional support from Dell Computers, AMD, Intel, The Thye Trust, Infinite Hero Foundation, and recently the SoldierStrong Foundation. Our recent partnership with SoldierStrong will support the dissemination of BRAVEMIND to VAs and other healthcare/research settings that have the clinical staff certified to administer this treatment. SoldierStrong will also be supporting the training of clinicians in the application of BRAVEMIND. Further information when available will appear here and at their webpage:

For more information, please contact the project PI, Dr. Skip Rizzo at:

Download a PDF overview.