Lens

A view of Emory from Barbara Rothbaum, Associate Professor of Psychiatry



It's really nice here in my office [on the sixth floor of the Emory Clinic, Building B]; I've got a great view of downtown. The sun sets behind downtown and it's beautiful, especially in the fall and winter, but I have to pull the blinds sometimes because the sunset blinds my patients. I find it's helpful if they can actually see me!

I treat anxiety disordered patients with cognitive behavioral therapy and have been doing research using virtual reality therapy to treat people with anxiety disorders. I'm a Ph.D., not an M.D., but because I do clinical research I'm an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine.

I see patients and do most of my research here in my office, but the virtual reality research is conducted at the Advanced Technology Development Center at Georgia Tech and at the Veterans' Administration Hospital on Clairmont Road. I work with a Georgia Tech computer scientist, Dr. Larry Hodges, and his students, and they create the virtual reality environments. It's very cool: I describe what I would do in the real world with a patient, and they create the virtual world to do the same thing. They can't alter reality, though, when the University of North Carolina Tarheels lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament. That's my undergraduate alma mater, UNC Chapel Hill. When the chair of our department came here and brought a lot of people with him from Dook, I had to hang up my undergraduate diploma to stake out my claim.

Right now we're conducting a fear-of-flying study, comparing the virtual reality exposure therapy to standard exposure therapy, in which the therapist takes patients down to Hartsfield airport--the old fashioned way. We're also doing a study for Vietnam veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder at the VA, in which we've created a "Virtual Vietnam."

In the virtual airplane fear-of-flying study, patients sit in a "thunder seat" with a woofer in the bottom so they feel the vibrations of the airplane, and they wear a head-mounted display with a little TV screen in front of each eye and earphones so they can hear the sounds of being in an airplane. Everywhere they look, it's like being on an airplane: the other seats, the window, and the view outside. And then they "take off" and fly. People definitely get scared in virtual environments--but we want them to. That's exposure therapy. You want the patient to be scared, to experience anxiety, and to stay in it while their anxiety comes down.

My own anxieties tend to be different: will the next grant be funded? I'm anxious about grants and salary support, what we academics call "soft money." I have three NIH [National Institutes of Health] grants going right now. That's great, but eventually these studies will end.

Earlier this year I had a treat here at Emory: I was invited to the Board of Trustees' black-tie dinner and reception. They invited several researchers because they were going to be talking about our new research at their board meeting the next day. You know, it's difficult for an academic to try to figure out how not to stand out as "The Academic" at a black-tie dinner. Ask me to write a grant, and it's done. Ask me to give a lecture to hundreds of people, and I'm fine. Invite me to a fancy-dress dinner, and I freeze. Of course, it turned out great, and everyone was very gracious. When in doubt, wear black!

I identify with Emory, and I'm proud to be a part of the Emory family, but I don't get to participate much in campus life. Most of us are very busy. I look forward to my department's annual holiday party where I can finally schmooze with my colleagues. It's a great bunch of people. I also don't get out of my building that much. Our department's administrative offices are across the street in the Woodruff Research Building, so I go there sometimes, and I go to the hospital auditorium for Grand Rounds [lectures on current research] about twice a month and down to WHSCAB [Woodruff Health Sciences Administration Building] for meetings about once a month, and that's about it.

Even though I've been here nine years, I'm still not exactly sure where the Quad is. I imagine I could find it if I walked over there; a rectangular, grassy area, right? I've probably been there and not realized it. I went to the Carlos Museum once to a reception, and I had to call and get directions. I've been to Cannon Chapel, too, but I came up through the back way. My two boys have gone to Emory Baseball Camp, so I've ventured into that part of campus. But no, I do not know where Tarbutton Hall is.

I usually work with medical students or psychiatric residents, so I don't pay attention to the Emory academic calendar--but I know by the traffic whether class is in session. When I can get here more quickly in the morning and leave more quickly in the afternoon, I know that classes must be out!


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