TATRC Iraq Scenario-Based Virtual Reality to Treat Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Polish Troops

Former Prime Minister Leszek Miller with Polish troops

At this writing, Poland has the second largest number of troops in Iraq of all of the strategic allies. Instead of being scattered across the country, Polish military personnel with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) will be sent to Warsaw, thus providing an ideal clinical research environment. The current rate of PTSD among Army and Marine Corps combatants returning from duty in Iraq is about 19 percent, and research suggests that the rate of PTSD among Poles returning from duty may be even higher than among American troops.

The Interactive Media Institute proposes to explore the feasibility (Phase 1) and effectiveness (Phase 2) of utilizing virtual reality graded exposure therapy (VRGET) in a Polish military setting for soldiers who have combat-related PTSD.

Phase 1 (including a pilot test with 10 Polish military patients with combat-related PTSD) will be determined to be successful if a) the technology can be set up and work appropriately in a Polish military mental health setting, b) therapists can be trained to use the technology appropriately, and c) patients believe they would continue with this type of treatment and might benefit from it. Phase 2 (30 patients) will be a single group design intended to examine whether Polish military combat veterans with PTSD will improve their PTSD diagnosis and symptoms following 10 weeks of VRGET.

This treatment follows a protocol in which patients use biofeedback to learn how to relax their bodies and cognitively attend more fully in the moment. After this is achieved (usually within the first 2 sessions), patients are placed in the Virtual Fallujah virtual environment. First neutral, and then progressively combative scenarios are presented, as the patients are able to handle them. As long as patients can control their physiological and subjective arousal, increasingly combative scenarios are played. If at any time patients become overly aroused, the scenario is simplified, and patients are instructed to use their skills to relax physiologically and attend to the moment at hand.

As TATRC develops broadband systems in Africa and in other parts of the world for deployment via Internet2, the U.S.–Polish PTSD VR system can be easily adapted to treat people with PTSD in other countries.

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