Soldiers Get a 'Second Life' With Virtual PTSD Therapy
But, instead of having soldiers read this information, a calm, slow voice walks a sufferer through the simulation of an event, explaining exactly why PTSD is a normal, psychological reaction.Our brains are hardwired to learn from our experiences. In the case of a traumatic experience, one thing your brain tries to learn is the relationship between cues and danger, and how to recognize and avoid danger in the future. This is usually a very healthy process. But sometimes our brains make associations between supposed cues and danger that are not accurate, and not helpful... many elements from the experience may become cues for danger.
In order to simulate a suicide bomber in a market as well as an American marketplace with no immediate danger, the Department of Defense enlisted the National Center for Telehealth and Technology, or T2, which specializes in virtual mental health support. "I have seen too many warriors who come home from a deployment and silently suffer for years before they get help," said Greg Reger, acting chief of T2's Innovative Technology Applications Division. To avoid "silent suffering," the team turned to 'Second Life,' a video game sim that allows players to maneuver through a world as an avatar. As soldiers are educated about the causes and effects of traumatic wartime experiences, they are encouraged to hit a "relax" button that transports them to the appropriate-but-lazily named "Psychological Health Island," where calming music is played and the vet is walked through breathing exercises. The program helps sufferers make appointments to seek treatment, provides website support, and, in the event things get too bleak, flashes a number to a suicide prevention hotline.
Accessible within 'Second Life,' the sim aims to put soldiers in controlled environments, and gently let them experience triggers. While 'Second Life' certainly isn't real life, and while a pixelated marketplace can't replace the grit, intensity and fearsomeness of the battlefield, the entire walkthrough is meant to educate and remove stigma. While that's not anywhere near a cure, at least it's accessible, and a first step.