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Virtual Reality Treatment for PTSD
USC Uses Xbox Game Concept to Treat Mental Trauma in Iraq Vets
02/19/2007 10:18 AM ET
Chris Hondros/Getty Images

The Guardian updates a bold new attempt by the University of Southern California to treat what may be Iraq's silent wound: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) The officially recognized version of "shell shock" or psychological trauma causes by stress and violence.

The virtual reality concept is a digital recreation of combat situations in Iraq that includes not only high resolution digital imagery and sound but also smells and tactile feelings. The idea is to expose patients to scenarios that trigger their PTSD and work through them with the goal of lessoning the negative side effects.

The system incorporates smells like gunpowder, cordite, burning rubber, Iraqi spices, barbecued lamb and body odor. Patients wear googles, earphones and can feel vibrations through a subwoofer.

Treatment sessions are 90 minutes, twice a week currently being conducted at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego. A study by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in 2004 determined that PTSD affects more than 15 percent of combat personnel returning from Iraq. The normal non combat rate among men is 5%.

PTSD is twice as likely among women than men. The condition can take weeks or years to develop after the initial triggering event. The psychological and physical condition can be caused by frightening or distressing events like combat as well as violent attacks, fear, natural disasters and serious accidents. 5% of men and 10% of women will experience it at some time in their life.

Symptoms include anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, anger, emotional numbness, extreme jumpiness and physical pain. Vets are encouraged to take advantage of the services and information provided by the National Center for PTSD

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