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Virtual reality therapy immerses patients back in trauma. Here’s why some swear by it.


“VR is not going to be the solution,” said Jonathan Rogers, a researcher at University College London who has studied rates of anxiety disorders during the pandemic. “It may be part of the solution, but it is not going to make drugs and formal therapies obsolete.”

Virtual reality treatments are no more effective than traditional prolonged exposure therapy, Dr. Sherrill. But for some patients, VR provides convenience and can immerse a patient in scenes that would be difficult to replicate in real life. For some people, the treatment may mimic the video game system they are already familiar with. There is also dual awareness in patients using virtual reality – the images on the screen are almost alive, but the headset itself serves as proof that they are not real.

Months after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Dr. Defede and Dr. Hunter Hoffmann, directors of Virtual Reality Research Center at the University of Washington, tested virtual reality treatment in a survivor with acute PTSD, one of the first reported applications of the therapy. Dr Defde said the patient started crying when she first put on the headset. “I never thought I’d see the World Trade Center again,” she told Dr. Told Defed. After the six-hour session, the patient experienced 90 percent reduction Symptoms of PTSD. Dr. Defede later tested VR Exposure Therapy in Iraq War Veterans; Of the first 20 patients, 16 did not meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD after completing treatment.

At the University of Central Florida, a team called UCF Restores is building trauma therapy using VR that allows clinicians to control the level of detail in a simulation, up to the color of a bedspread or a TV that can be clicked on or off, to more easily make painful Memories can be triggered. The program provides free trauma therapy to Florida residents often using VR and focuses on treating PTSD.

Dr. Deborah Beidel, professor of psychology and executive director of UCF Restores, has broadened treatments beyond visuals, adapted sounds, and even smells to create an augmented reality for patients.

Jonathan Tisch, 35, a former Marine, sought treatment at UCF Restores in early 2020 after talk therapy and medication failed to ease his PTSD symptoms, including flashbacks, anxiety, and mood swings. In the end, it was the scent that was pumped into the room while he described his military service to a physician that helped unlock his memories. There was the smell of burning tyres, the smoke of diesel, the smell of rotting bodies. He heard the sounds of ammunition firing. His chair rumbled, thanks to the fake vibrations of the center.

“It opened some doors I could start speaking about,” he said. He talked through his newly opened memories with a therapist and a support group, processing the terror that had built up in his body over the years.



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