Iraq War, PTSD, and Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy

What memories stand out for you in regards to the Iraq war? It started with an invasion by the United States into Iraq in March 2003, who then withdrew after nine years in 2011. The insurgency however, still plows on. Did you know that Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom deployed 2.5 million troops to Iraq and Afghanistan and approximately 13-20% of them will develop PTSD?

The most common way of treating PTSD these days is with imagined exposure. This means that for 8-12 individual sessions, the victim is made to recount his experiences. This seems counterintuitive at first. However, repeated therapeutic activation of the trauma memory allows victims to learn to associate the memory with less fear and anxiety.

We’ve come across a study by a group of psychiatrists that tested the effects of d-cycloserine or alprazolam combined with virtual reality for post traumatic stress disorder in 156 Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans.

The drugs performed as expected. Alprazolam is a benzodiazepine which can decrease anxiety effectively but it also stops people from learning as it can affect memory. When used for exposure therapy it stops people from benefiting from exposure. D-cycloserine, which we have spoken about in previous posts, is an antibiotic that curiously seems to make learning in exposure therapy more effective. This results in greater benefits from the exposure itself.

This aside for us the most exciting part of the study is the virtual reality. Virtual reality exposure therapy is a type of psychotherapy and uses virtual reality to treat anxiety and phobias. It has become of late the preferred treatment option for PTSD. It’s exciting to read up on studies experimenting with virtual reality in order to potentially broaden its grasp. Virtual reality can now even be used for the treatment of addictions.

Quick “fun” fact (may be too nerdy to be fun); Virtually Free got its name from virtual reality therapy. Take for example, our Phobia Free app, which treats you of arachnophobia. You pass levels like a game, playing with a cute and cuddly spider until reaching the last level where you play with an augmented reality tarantula (Warning: Spider Picture Here).

The technologies of today are making it possible to have something such as virtual reality available in your own home. With one if four people suffering from mental health issues, and the shortage of therapists very apparent, self-administered engaging therapy is the new best way forward.