Virtual Worlds for Combat Related PTSD

Virtual Iraq is a set of virtual reality environments created to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom (OIF/OEF) combat service men and women as well as those who have served in Afghanistan. The development and clinical evaluation of Virtual Iraq was funded by the Office of Naval Research, a project that lasted three years.

From a clinical standpoint, Virtual Iraq is form of Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET), a virtual reality approach to conducting prolonged exposure (PE) therapy, one of the most evidence-based methods of psychotherapeutic treatment for post-traumatic stress. PE is a cognitive-behavioral intervention in which the patient is virtually exposed (for 30-45 minutes per session) to a variety of stimuli (i.e., visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and olfactory) with the purpose of having the patient gradually face the fearful experiences that underlie his/her traumatic memories until habituation to the anxiety occurs. 

In VR Iraq, the patient views computer graphic scenes recreating the experiences of war through a 3-D headset. The patient progresses through the scenes in a gradual fashion so that they will not become overwhelmed. In the D-Cycloserine (DCS) Virtual Reality program, each participant is randomly assigned to either take a low dose of a medication or a placebo prior to VRET sessions, with DCS theorized to quicken the improvement of symptoms.

Where is VRET being used?

Virtual Iraq is being implemented clinically and in clinical research trials by applying VRET to treat PTSD among veteran and active duty OIF/OEF service personnel at Madigan Army Medical Center (MAMC) at Ft. Lewis, WA, the Naval Medical Center-San Diego (NMCSD), Camp Pendleton, Emory University, Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC), the Weill Medical College of Cornell University, over 15 Veterans Affairs sites, as well as 8 U.S. Air Force bases around the country. Additionally, we are training the Army and Air Force through separate initiatives to offer VRET services.

Who is eligible for VRET?

Persons who are eligible for services include individuals (armed forces or civilian contractors) with PTSD resulting from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, active duty as well as veterans. 

To learn more about our programs or to schedule an appointment, please call (212) 821-0783.

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