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Virtually Possible: Treating and Preventing Psychiatric Wounds of War

Virtually Possible: Treating and Preventing Psychiatric Wounds of War

Psychiatric Times April 2005
Issue 4

After commanding a transportation unit in Iraq, a National Guardsman returned home to California (Guthrie, 2005). He thought he was fine until the nightmares and night sweats started. He felt numb and detached from his family. When he drove to work, a bump in the asphalt triggered memories of improvised devices that exploded on Iraqi roadways. With the encouragement of his family, the Guardsman finally sought counseling.

Meanwhile, a 24-year-old gunner still in Iraq became withdrawn, listless and disinterested in eating (Myers, 2003). He would lie awake, remembering how four of his friends, fellow soldiers, had their bodies torn apart by a bomb packed inside a taxi. He was referred to counseling for his "combat stress reaction" and returned to duty with his unit.

The issues are challenging: How do you reduce or avert the psychological wounds of war and prevent long-term, service-connected disabilities?

At the recent 13th Annual Medicine Meets Virtual Reality Conference in Long Beach, Calif., researchers discussed the development of new technologies using virtual reality to treat soldiers returning from Iraq with posttraumatic stress disorder and to provide those being deployed with stress inoculation training. As defined by researchers working with veterans, "virtual reality integrates real-time computer graphics, body-tracking devices, visual displays and other sensory input devices to immerse a participant in a computer-generated virtual environment that changes in a natural way with head and body motion" (Rothbaum et al., 2001). Albert "Skip" Rizzo, Ph.D., research scientist and research assistant professor at the Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) at the University of Southern California, told conference attendees that ICT is creating an immersive virtual environment system in which to treat Iraqi War veterans diagnosed with combat-related PTSD (Rizzo et al., 2004).

We put tremendous resources into training our troops for combat, now "we need to make a strong case for dealing with the aftermath," Rizzo said. "The military has an ethical responsibility to deal with PTSD."


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