Project Details


VR therapy helps PTSD patients recover

By University of Southern California

Project URL:
Project Twitter: @USC

  • Health
  • Audiovisual

It is estimated that 8% of the US population, or 24.4 million people, suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at any given time, which leaves them experiencing nightmares, hallucinations and anxiety. While PTSD can occur after any traumatic event, like rape, a significant proportion of sufferers are army veterans who experienced horrific situations while in conflict. 

Treatments include psychotherapy, but Albert Rizzo, a psychologist at University of California’s Institute for Creative Technologies says that this is ineffective: “The idea that doing supportive counseling alone where people are told ‘Don’t worry about that stuff in the past, let it go, let’s worry about the future…’ doesn’t work, to be quite blunt.”

Instead, Rizzo is a proponent of graduated exposure therapy, which involves ‘reliving’ the traumatic event in a safer environment. “Research shows that activating the fear and anxiety component of it, in a safe place, is the only thing that makes it go away,” he explains.   

Many patients are unwilling or unable to confront the memory that scares them, so Rizzo developed a virtual reality (VR) tool called Bravemind, where soldiers are put in trauma-relevant scenarios while under a clinician’s supervision to be able to gradually process and confront the emotions that are causing them anxiety. 

Bravemind is multi-sensory, and includes a vibrotactile platform that uses subwoofers to replicate surround sound, as well as a scent machine that simulates the smell of diesel fuel, garbage and gunpowder. The experience has 14 different levels that the clinician can control, and programmed avatars provide advice on how to deal with stress and get help.

Tests showed that of 20 PTSD sufferers who previously didn’t respond to treatment, 16 showed significant improvement after VR therapy. “Going through it in the game is better than going through it in my head at night,” said one patient. 

Learn more about the project at

Image courtesy of Chris

Last updated: 05th of September, 2016

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