Virtual Iraq Used To Treat PTSD

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by the_boy_syrup, Feb 20, 2007.

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  1. the_boy_syrup

    the_boy_syrup LE Book Reviewer

    Soldiers traumatised by the horrors of war are being helped to recover by reliving their experiences in a computer-generated "Virtual Iraq".

    The aim is to get them to confront and overcome their fears in a controlled virtual reality environment.

    Virtual Iraq: Soldiers traumatised by the horrors of war are being helped to recover by reliving their experiences in a computer-generated of the war

    The soldiers wear a head-set that projects computer game-like battlefield images on to their eyes.

    For extra realism, they stand on a platform that can simulate the vibration of a military vehicle or concussion from a bomb blast. The sounds, and even smells, of the war zone are also added.

    The unorthodox therapy, piloted since the end of last year, has already produced significant improvements in four American soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

    A number of others are still undergoing treatment at the Santiago Naval Medical Centre in California and a number of other rehabilitation clinics in the US.

    The first success story was a 21-year-old woman who worked in a support role and frequently had to deal with the bloody aftermath of suicide bombings.

    The approach draws on recognised psychological techniques for dealing with patients who are plagued by anxieties, fears and phobias.

    Normally, the patient is asked to imagine situations that trigger particular fears. However, this is difficult for people with PTSD who tend to block out the source of their terror.

    In "Virtual Iraq" soldiers are gently made to face their fears in a gradual step-by-step process that eventually helps them quell their demons.

    Each soldier is asked to tell his or her story while the therapist supplies appropriate sights, sounds, sensations and smells.

    To start with, he or she might be in a humvee military vehicle driving along a desert road, with no sign of danger.

    With each twice weekly session lasting up to an hour and a half, the stress and shock elements are stepped up.

    Dr Skip Rizzo, from the University of Southern California at Los Angeles, who helped develop the treatment, said: "What we do is put a person in Virtual Iraq but at a level initially that they can handle, with minimal anxiety.

    "We might start them off in a desert, next to a humvee, with no sounds that might be enough to get their heart rate up. Then you raise the level. We put them in the humvee, and add the sound of the engine and the vibration. The person would be in the humvee and significant trauma-related events would be delivered - bombs going off, things blowing up, rubble on the side of the road and so on.

    "It's a gradual experience approach that I don't think you can do effectively in imagination."

    Dr Rizzo described "Virtual Iraq" at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco. He said the system, which cost under 10,000 dollars (£5,000), included a "smell machine" - a box that can deliver a choice of eight different smells by means of an aerosol spray.

    The smells include cordite, diesel fuel, burning rubber, body odour, middle-eastern spices, and cooked lamb.

    In Iraq, a lot of cooking is done outside and soldiers have reported the smell of roasting lamb pervading the streets, said Dr Rizzo.

    The vibrating platform is driven by a large bass loudspeaker which booms out a soundtrack to accompany the images. In this way, the soldier being treated can see, hear and feel a moving vehicle or exploding bomb all at the same time.

    "You hear a bomb and feel it," said Dr Rizzo. "You might say it's like a game, but somebody who has been in combat will be more engaged with it than that. After a while, the person treats it just as if they are really there."

    Although trials are still at an early stage, the virtual reality treatment has been shown to reduce the common symptoms of PTSD, such as jumpiness, avoidance, flashbacks and nightmares.

    "This translates into being able to leave the house, go to work, and carry on a relationship with your wife and loved ones," said Dr Rizzo. "One case has had a three month follow-up and shown continuous gains."

    Four or five soldiers have discontinued the treatment, but the drop-out rate is said to be no higher than with other forms of therapy. It was also likely to be high among a shifting population of military personnel, said Dr Rizzo.

    Link here

    Do we think it'll work?
  2. Nope i dont.

    I just feel i should point this in the direction of the med centre... See if we can get a virtual brothel to cure STD
  3. I dont think this should be dismissed out of hand. As a sufferer of this benighted condition I know how deeply it affects the whole of your life, not just the bit in green.

    Personally speaking, I would grasp at any snake oil dealer who promised me a "cure" - not that there is one. This is something that should be understood by the public. When we refer to Soldiers suffering "long term mental trauma" it is for the longest term - life.

    You are never "cured" of the incident that led to you suffering from the disorder, you manage its consequences. For some, they just have an aversion to sandy places :winkrazz:

    For others - like me - it has led to nightmares, breakdowns in personal relationships, a hatred of loud bangs and being unable to be in the same house as a cooking joint of pork :pissedoff:

    I am undergoing treatment now, if somebody were to say to me "Get thee hence to California, this will reduce your treatment period by at least three months" I would be off like a shot at my own expense. I want to gain control again as I am sure most other PTSD sufferers do. IMHO this sounds like just another tool to be put in the treatment box and brought out as and when required.
  4. I managed to cadge a look around the lab in Marina Del Rey where they were developing the system a few years ago. At the time they were looking to use it to help train troops in Peace Support Ops ahead of time, rather than PTSD, but if they think it can work, then great. They were looking at adapting it for each specific theatre (locals specific body language, gestures etc.) The test rig I looked at looked promising then, but it was clear that the geeks had a lot more work to do on it. The Centre For Creative Technology has been getting some huge sums of money from the DoD to develop this stuff.

    IIRC, it's based around off the shelf videogame architecture. Quake II or III, I think.
  5. Shame they didn't have a virtual Iraq to plan the mission and cure mission creep, implement democracy, develop an exit strategy et cetera...
  6. I understand this methodology, and it's a form of psychodynamic psychotherapy with controlled exposure (sounds technical - it's not particularly).

    From a psychiatric point of view if it works (works=symptom reduction) then I'm all for it.
  7. It may help some people for some of the time.

    If you ever go to combat stress, you'll see people from WW2 with PTSD they've been through all the different and new treatments that come into vogue, but they still have PTSD. IMO you never lose PTSD, if you're lucky you learn to cope.
  8. Sounds like it could work. The whole idea of behavioural therapy is to introduce the subject little by little to the thing that most terrifies him or her. Over time, he/she comes to deal with it and symptoms decrease over time. For example, if you had a fear of flying, you might be encouraged to learn about how passenger jets work, what the airline safety stats are, how pilots are trained, and then to go up on a short (1/2 hour) flight, building up over longer distances.* By realising that in fact, you most likely aren't going to get hijacked by knife-wielding maniacs each flight, then you get a sense of perspective back.

    This approach has worked wonders for sufferers of anxiety disorders and phobias (triggered by PTSD or otherwise), so using videogames to simulate combat scenarios could be very useful. It helps you build up resistance to the kind of mental stimulus (e.g. loud bangs, helicopters) that might trigger adverse reactions in sufferers from PTSD. It also helps the sufferer realise that phobias are usually completely irrational (though I am not trying to argue that there aren't good reasons why people get them).

    I think a lot of psyciatrists nowadays think this kind of therapy is a lot better than "talking therapy" which just encourages people to go over the same ground again and again, and so it turns from an "issue" into an obsession.

    So, yes, it could be a good idea.

    *= although some treatment centres send up aircraft for short flights where the entire passenger list is made up of phobics trying to overcome their fears. not sure being in a plane with 50 sh1t-scared people screaming would really help matters.
  9. No wonder airline pilots like a drink or two!!
  10. Interesting subject.

    When I was a little kid, I lived in Aden during the troubles (dad was based there). We were mortered every day and grenaded etc.

    My family was evacuated, dad was one of the last to leave. Back in the UK, I wa sh*t scared of thunder and would be found hiding under the nearest car. Gran would say "look what them arabs have done to my recce!!".

    When I was older, I joined the army. Guess which branch.... The Royal Artillery :D

    Anything which helps the sufferer should not be dismissed.
  11. Oddly enough, it was around the autumn of 2002 when I had a look at it. The boffins still had Kosovo front and centre in their minds though.