Real Virtual Therapy

Friday, June 13, 2008


One of the biggest concerns surrounding veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is the high rate of post traumatic stress disorder. But Dr. Skip Rizzo, a research scientist at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies, says virtual reality might help. Using a modified video game, a V.R. headset and even smells he's successfully treated vets.

Comments [3]

Skip Rizzo from Los Angeles

In response to Terence, I understand your apprehension but VR exposure therapy not a "quick fix" and the best emprical data on PTSD treatment outcomes, indicates that exposure therapy is the ONLY treatment with sufficient scientific support for its efficacy. If you send me an email at, I will forward you a recent chapter that we wrote that summarizes this work. I firmly believe it is unethical NOT to integrate a trauma focus into therapy whether it be in imagination or with VR in light of the failure of other treatment approaches to show any level of consistent efficacy for general use. Also, check out this link for the National Academy of Science report last fall that summarized and compared research in this area.
There is a free pdf download button on that page.
I believe that some of the treatment approaches that you mention do in fact have some value when integrated within a "multi-prong" approach, but not as an exclusive front line treatment. I appreciate your feedback and only reply here to suggest that you explore more of this work to see that for many patients, this has helped them out quite a bit. Best Regards, Skip Rizzo

Jun. 24 2008 07:58 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

This segment called to mind Ray Bradbury’s story, “The Veldt”, where children Peter and Wendy use a virtual reality projector to create their own twisted Never Land to exact revenge upon their inattentive parents for them.

I liked Brooke’s question about employing the therapy for other forms of PTSD. However, I have little hope a program could be devised that would undue the damage of being asked, when I was sixteen, in a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt by Yale researchers to kill someone for science because he could not answer specific questions in a timely fashion, in a variation on the infamous Milgram experiment.

Your soundscape and wordscape wonderfully evoked the mental picture of the terrain meant to accompany it and the potential value of the therapy at quieting a soldier’s daydreams or nightmares in the hands of a competent therapist or “reintegration trainer”.

Then, again, after reading Mr. Harkin, I refer back to the feeling of being on the Veldt, as illustrated in the film version in “The Illustrated Man”. Maybe not such a good idea to get me hoisting desks in the air again, either. I'd probably fall over.

Jun. 16 2008 12:11 AM
Terence A Harkin from Toms River, NJ

As a veteran who has long struggled with depression and PTSD, I found that your feature on Virtual Realty PTSD treatment actually caused me distress, especially listening to the sounds of combat and hearing about the possibility of using the smell of burning hair in future "therapy."

I believe Dr. Rizzo's fundamental premise is unsound--a treatment for phobias is NOT appropriate for reintegrating survivors of acute trauma. What has worked for many veterans is a multi-pronged program of family support, talk therapy, anti-depressant medication and some sort of healing spiritual path (Native American sweat lodge and Vipassana “Insight” meditation, for example).

Virtual Reality may be a promising treatment for phobias, but PTSD requires sophisticated long-term treatment. The VA is vastly unprepared for the current influx of Iraq War veterans with PTSD. I would hate to think that Virtual Realty treatment is being brought in as a cheap “quick fix.”

Jun. 15 2008 11:07 PM

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