Virtual war, real therapy

From CNN:

The mental scars of war are often far more debilitating than the many physical injuries that servicemen and women pick up during combat. But a new virtual war simulation may help veterans recover from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Researchers at the University of California have estimated that a quarter of the 100,000 servicemen returning from duty in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2005 have received at least one mental health diagnosis. Of those 25,000 veterans, over half were suffering from PTSD…

A new virtual simulation currently being trialed aims to treat returning war veterans in a unique way. The “Virtual Iraq” simulation has been developed at the University of Southern California’s (USC) Institute for Creative Technologies by Scientist’s Albert “Skip” Rizzo and Jarrell Pair.

The exposure therapy program, which took the graphic assets from the Xbox game “Full Spectrum Warrior,” recreates the sights and sounds, even the smells and physical jolts of the battlefield allowing soldiers to relive and ultimately confront their psychological traumas.

On the USC program patients talk through their trauma with a therapist whilst wearing goggles, which immerse them in a virtual reality battlefield. The therapist controls and adapts the environment, adding sights, smells and sounds, if agreed by the patient. These can include roadside bombs, specific odors such as gunpowder, cordite, burning rubber, Iraqi spices and body odor, and targeted sounds such as gunfire and helicopters buzzing overhead. So far four of those treated have responded positively and seen an improvement in their symptoms.

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