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DoD Deploys Virtual World to Educate about PTSD

Image: National Center for Telehealth and Technology

The Defense Department is now using online virtual reality as an alternative method of treatment for soldiers experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.

According to DoD, soldiers interacting in the virtual world, Second Life, are educated about dealing with PTSD and with others. Defense officials said it appeals to warfighters who may be hesitant to seek help from a therapist and offer a personalized and less-direct opportunity for treatment.

And, Greg Reger, a clinical psychologist and acting chief of the center’s innovative technology applications division, said the virtual world especially appeals to younger service members of the digital generation.

“Far too many of our warriors come home and, despite difficulties they are having, are not going to come and see a psychologist, a social worker, a psychiatrist,” he said.

That’s where the T2 Virtual PTSD Experience in Second Life comes in. The immersive online environment, created by developers, psychologists and defense officials, is also open to the public and educates visitors about combat-related post-traumatic stress, according to the Armed Forces Press Service.

The virtual world aims to provide users with a realistic experience, Reger said.

“The cornerstone of the experience is when they leave that area and go into an area that teaches about the causes of post-traumatic stress disorder,” he explained. “They enter a space where they get into a Humvee and are taken through a computer-generated simulation that includes [intense fighting on an Afghan street and] an explosion.

One of the psychologists who helped lead the virtual world development, Kevin Holloway, said the environment allows people to “learn by doing, rather than by reading text and watching videos on two-dimensional sites.”

“They can learn something new each time they visit,” he added.

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