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Program for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Studies

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Virtual World Trade Center

Following the attacks of September 11, individuals have commonly reported experiencing symptoms characteristic of posttraumatic stress disorder. The virtual reality treatment of these symptoms combines traditional exposure therapy with computer graphic images that aid in the reenactment of that day. Traditional exposure therapy involves having the patient retell their experiences of that day, while offering other behavioral and cognitive coping techniques. The virtual reality treatment incorporates all of these aspects into its treatment, while utilizing a virtual world that helps engage the patient through their senses of sight and hearing.

During the virtual reality treatment, the individual is shown 11 different computer graphic scenes recreating the experience of September 11th. The scenes range from a plane flying past the first tower, to a reenactment of two planes hitting both towers and their collapses, accompanied by realistic sound effects. Each scene is viewed through the 3-D headset that responds to the patient's head movements. The patient progresses through the scenes in a gradual fashion, ensuring that they will not become overwhelmed. The therapist watches the scenes from a computer screen as the patient retells their personal experience.

Citations: 

    1. Difede J, Cukor J, Wyka K, Olden M, Hoffman H, Lee FS, Altemus M. D-Cycloserine Augmentation of Exposure Therapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Pilot Randomized Clinical Trial. Neuropsychopharmacol, 39(5): 1052-8, 2014. 
    2. Difede J, Cukor J, Jayasinghe N, Patt I, Jedel S, Giosan C, & Hoffman H.  Virtual reality exposure therapy for the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder following September 11, 2001.  J Clin Psychiatry, 68: 1639-1647, 2007.
    3. Difede J, Hoffman H: Virtual reality exposure therapy for PTSD following the WTC: A case report. Cyberpsychol Behav, 5(6): 529-535, 2002.

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