'Virtual Iraq' Therapy For PTSD

Virtual Iraq is a software program designed to treat post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The virtual reality program allows the user to put on a headset and "return" to the scene of trauma.


(Research assistant demos Virtual Iraq tech)

With the headset on, the veteran has a 360-degree view of the virtual world. He can look up at the tiled dome of a mosque or down at the mosaic at his feet. A special platform enables him to feel the vibration of the Humvee engine or the concussion of a bomb blast. A scent machine replicates the smell of smoke, diesel, sweat, burning rubber or traditional Iraqi foods. The veteran can also interact with soldiers, civilians and insurgents, although he can't kill anyone or be killed.

The program comes with a joystick, but many veterans who helped test the equipment felt insecure exploring Virtual Iraq without a weapon in their hands, so a fully weighted dummy of an M16 assault rifle was created for them to hold, instead.

It's an innovative way to reach out to veterans who might otherwise shy away from talking about their problems, said Richard De La Garza, an associate professor of psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine.

Science fiction readers have been prepared for this viewpoint. John Varley's novel Steel Beach presents a computer that provides therapy by projecting children into a sort of virtual world (actually implanting false memories of living in a fantasy world). Also, Roger Zelazny wrote a novel called The Dream Master in which a therapist controls a virtual world to help patients.

See also the article Hacking the Mind of the Soldier; from chron.

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