Virtual Iraq

There’s a great article in this week’s New Yorker about a new form of therapy designed to treat the estimated 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are returning to the US with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The therapy is based on virtual reality – using a specially-modified version of the game Full Spectrum Warrior, which was partly designed by the Pentagon as a training programme, though civilians can also buy it and play it on their PCs or consoles.

The special therapeutic version, called Virtual Iraq, uses a head-set that fully immerses the player in the environment. Psychologists then use it to re-expose the patient to the incident that caused their trauma, the incident which is lodging in their memory like shrapnel, and not letting them get on with their life.

The programme can be modified to quite detailed specifications – the psychologist can take the patient to a number of different environments, such as walking through a market, or driving along a road in a Humvee, and can introduce elements such as helicopters flying over head, people shouting in Arabic, even ‘the smell of burnt hair’.

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