Treating Traumatic Nightmares With Virtual Reality

One of the most devastating symptoms of those who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is terrifying nightmares.

Sometimes these nightmares can be so intense that they lead to panic attacks, vivid flashbacks of negative past events, and even aggressive behavior.

The U.S. Army is currently doing research on how to counteract these nightmares by placing individuals into a “dream-like” virtual reality designed to quickly calm nerves and relieve anxiety.

The suggested treatment is that whenever a solider or veteran wakes up from one of these traumatic nightmares, they will immediately put on a pair of 3D digital goggles and enter into an “animated world of comforting sights.”

The research is based on other current existing treatments for PTSD, including image rehearsal therapy, where therapists and patients work together to identify stress triggers and how they can be defused in future situations. It also integrates biofeedback, where a patient can monitor their stress levels in real-time and find relaxation techniques that help bring their stress levels back down to their baseline.

Using both of these techniques, those who suffer from PTSD will be able to construct their own unique virtual reality, one that suits them best in lowering stress levels after an unpleasant dream. Researchers are hoping that the use of this kind of therapy over time can decrease the frequency and intensity of these nightmares in the long run.

While the research certainly isn’t finished, virtual reality already shows some promise of being a valuable therapy for other anxieties and phobias. There is some evidence that it can aid in relieving fears of spiders, flying, and public speaking.

It will be interesting to see how virtual reality therapy develops into the future. I’m always fascinated to see how new technologies are integrated into modern psychotherapy and just how beneficial they can be in helping mental disorders of all types. This will definitely be something to keep our eyes on as more research comes out.

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