Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy Program
Service members may face unique barriers to care compared to civilian populations. Following combat deployments, many service members affected by PTSD are emotionally detached and avoid the painful memories associated with the traumatic event, which can limit their ability to emotionally engage during exposure. In addition, some service members report concerns about stigma associated with seeking help through traditional “talk therapies.” Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET) holds the potential to provide effective therapy for PTSD and to improve access to care for service members who might otherwise avoid treatment due to stigma.
Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy immerses a participant in a computer-generated world that simulates the environments in which many combat-related traumas occur. For example, convoys in Middle Eastern appearing environments or foot patrols can be simulated with a range of audio-visual stimuli along with the ability to recreate rumbling vibrations and smells that are relevant to the experience. By revisiting the traumatic event in a sensory-rich environment, the investigators hypothesize that participants may experience better activation of the memory, improved emotional engagement, and better clinical outcomes.
What is VRET?
Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET) leverages 360 degree, interactive computer-generated environments that can be modified in real time to resemble relevant aspects of the trauma memory during exposure therapy for post traumatic stress disorder.
How does VRET work?
Anxiety is a normal reaction to danger, and is necessary for people to avoid harm. Anxiety can be problematic when it is activated in the absence of real danger. In exposure therapy, patients are asked to confront the memory of the trauma as well as avoided situations, places, and circumstances that are anxiety provoking, though relatively safe. VRET leverages virtual reality to help the person activate the memory during exposure so that it can be revisited and emotionally processed. By repeated exposure to the memory, anxiety and related symptoms reduce over time.
Is VRET effective?
VRET is based on established exposure treatments that have been demonstrated to be effective in treating anxiety disorders. The main difference between VRET and standard exposure treatments is the manner in which the exposure experience takes place. Instead of closing one’s eyes and revisiting the memory in imagination, virtual reality technologies are used during exposure. Research to date supports the effectiveness of VRET. Well designed clinical trials like the T2 study described above are needed before the efficacy of VRET is known.