Psychologists at the Emory University School of Medicine are using a new tool to help veterans overcome post-traumatic stress disorder: video games.
This new technology creates realistic simulations of battlefield conditions in the Middle East. Soldiers wear a virtual mask, head phones, and they’re even exposed to smells like smoke or burning rubber. Every feature of the treatment is designed to bring soldiers back into the battlefield.
We know what you’re thinking: how could go going back to the place that traumatized these soldiers possibly be helpful? According to psychologist Dr. Maryrose Gerardi, it’s exactly that type of thinking that allows PTSD to flourish. She explains, “When you avoid memories in that way, they retain their power and control over you, and when you approach them and are able to process them you’re able to then be at peace with them.”
Following this basic idea, the video game simulation “Virtual Iraq” allows the psychologist to customize treatment to meet the specific needs of the soldier. If the soldier says that the helicopters showed up next, then the psychologist can hit a button and trigger the sound of helicopters.
Much of the appeal of this approach is that it allows soldiers to regain control over the experience. After all, soldiers are trained to attack and control obstacles, so allowing soldiers to explore Iraq in an environment where they feel in control can help to mitigate the effects of PTSD.
Pair this new therapeutic research with the recent discovery that video games can help improve accuracy, and suddenly video games look like a soldier’s best friend.