Virtual reality is no longer just a buzzword used for entertainment and the gaming. Researchers have now found a way for the technology to help U.S. veterans manage their post traumatic stress disorder.
Researchers at the University of Central Florida had participants undergo a three-week program called the UCF Restores Program. It consists of group and virtual reality therapy, and prolonged exposure therapy — which places the veterans back into the traumatic experiences that initially triggered their PTSD.
According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, nightmares, depression, an increased risk of suicide and hyperarousal.
Bruce Chambers, an Iraq War veteran who was one of the first patients to go through the nearly month-long program, told Fox 35 in Orlando that VR therapy reduced his paranoia and made him a better father and husband. Through virtual reality, he relived a traumatic event during his 15-month stay in Iraq.
Chambers hit a 400-pound improvised explosive device, was knocked unconscious and got ambushed during a 15-month tour. During the virtual reality program regime, he sat in a shaking chair to simulate the explosion. Other sensory memories from that moment were replicated, including the smells of car exhaust and burning flesh. Chambers repeatedly relived the moment until his anxiety level diminished.
“I think other people need to hear about this because it’s changing lives,” Chambers told the Fox 35. “My mind thinks differently from what it did. It changed my life, and if it can change my life, it can change another soldier’s life.”
The point of the therapy is not to permanently erase the traumatic memories that the soldiers’ experienced, but to help them relieve the events so that the stress which accompany these thoughts can be eliminated.
Dr. Deborah Beidel, founder of UCF Restores, described the program as “intense,” but “the advantage is that we can really take care of this disorder, and treat this disorder thoroughly and effectively in a short period of time.”
The UCF Restores regime has greatly improved the lives of many of its veteran participants. Beidel’s research shows the program has a 66 percent success rate among patients, and that the participants now have fewer nightmares and overall suffer less anxiety.