Thursday, August 10, 2006

Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy treating post-traumatic stress disorders

Exposure therapy has long been a successful method of treating post-traumatic stress disorders. It involves having a therapist guide the patient as he confronts memories of traumatic events. The article at Serious Games Source describes how the use of virtual reality environments can dramatically improve the process.

Traditional exposure therapy depends on talk and storytelling. What if the patient is so traumatized that he can't even talk about it? This is one of the problems virtual reality environments can really help.

Exposure therapy depends on the patient emotionally engaging in the treatment. Video game design has shown how immersive environments can help in that process, and that's exactly what the use of virtual reality environments is trying to achieve: making the patient feel more like they're really there. The goal is to make the environment to resemble the real environment of the traumatic event as closely as possible.

The use of virtual reality in exposure therapy appears to be particularly applicable when the traumatic event causing stress disorders has been experienced by a large number of people, for example 9/11 attack or war battles. Creating virtual reality environments to treat a single patient is prohibitively expensive.

This is an encouraging application of video game design learnings.

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