Vietnam veterans struggle with post-traumatic stress disorderwhich
can include nightmares, hallucinations, panic attacks, and depressionthe
last place they want to go is back to the jungle.
that's exactly where virtual reality exposure (VRE) therapy
computer-generated images and audio similar to that found in
arcade video games, the therapy developed by Emory psychiatrist
Barbara Rothbaum and Larry Hodges of Georgia Tech and administered
by David Ready, a clinical psychologist at the Atlanta Veterans
Affairs Medical Center, creates a virtual Vietnam: jungle, shadows,
helicopters, and the rat-tat-tat of machine gun fire.
is a somewhat radical new arrival to the vast field of post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD) treatment. The technique uses controlled
exposure to trigger each clients trauma and allows the
therapist to help them deal with it head-on.
especially thirty years later, is a really tough disorder to
treat, Ready says. The VA has 136 programs devoted
to PTSD, but this is one of the very few that goes beyond trying
to stabilize and prevent deterioration. This program is aimed
at reducing symptoms and increasing functionality.
treatment is tailored to individual clients and their traumatic
memories, Ready says. From the computer keyboard, he can control
the experience of any given individual client based on what
he senses they can handle, and counsel them through the rough
times. I am responding on a moment-by-moment basis,
he says. Its kind of like being a movie director.
twenty veterans have been through VRE therapy, with positive
results. One particularly dramatic case was featured in an Atlanta
Journal Constitution story about VRE treatment for Vietnam vets.
is doing things like attending his daughters basketball
games, weddings, taking his wife out to dinner. These are things
he simply has not done since he returned from Vietnam,
Ready says. I call him Rip Van Winkle. Its like
hes waking up after being asleep for thirty years.