Using virtual reality to help assist in the treatment of PTSD is nothing new. There have been numerous efforts to simulate stressful situations from the safety of a therapist’s office, including the Virtual Iraq program, the T2 Virtual PTSD Experience in Second Life by the National Institute of Telehealth and Technology and several others. Use of these technologies has been hampered by a variety of reasons ranging from cost, to technological hurdles, to uncertainty of effectiveness. However, the upcoming release of a new device, called the Oculus Rift, may signal a whole new era for virtual reality-assisted therapy. The Oculus Rift is a head-mounted virtual reality display; what makes it unique is its high quality, relatively low price and ease of use. All of these factors may pave the way for wide-spread adoption in the near future.
Though the Oculus Rift was originally designed for video games, individuals using the pre-released developer’s kit version have already adapted it for use in virtual reality therapy. This is showcased in a recent article on The Verge. The piece looks at Dr. Albert Rizzo, who has been working on virtual reality therapy since 2005, and his recent work adapting the Virtual Iraq program to run on the Oculus Rift headset. The accompanying video shows the results of this work. Even at this early stage, the responsiveness to the user’s head and body movements is quite impressive.
Even though the Oculus Rift and its accompanying therapeutic uses are still in the development stage, it is easy to see the possibilities of such tools. Giving behavioral health providers the ability to guide their patients through a variety of potential stressful trigger situations could be hugely important during the process of Prolonged Exposure Therapy or Cognitive Processing Therapy. The realer and immersive these situations are, the more powerful a tool they can be in therapy. And the Oculus Rift looks like it could be a huge help in providing these tools. There is still a long way to go, but technology such as this continues assist providers to offer the best care and treatment available.
Mr. Chris Adams is the Online Services Project Coordinator for the Center for Deployment Psychology at their headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland.