PTSD Treatment Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy Can Help PTSD By Matthew Tull, PhD Matthew Tull, PhD Twitter Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder. Learn about our editorial process Updated on June 29, 2020 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Daniel B. Block, MD Medically reviewed by Daniel B. Block, MD LinkedIn Twitter Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Verywell / Catherine Song Virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) is being examined as another way to help people recover from PTSD. VRET is a type of exposure therapy that has increasingly been used to treat a variety of anxiety disorders, including specific phobias. Before learning how VRET treats PTSD symptoms, however, it's important to have a handle on what exposure therapy is. Exposure Therapy Exposure therapy is considered to be a behavioral treatment for PTSD. Exposure therapy targets behaviors that people engage in (most often avoidance) in response to situations or thoughts and memories that are viewed as frightening or anxiety-provoking. For example, a rape survivor may begin to avoid relationships or going out on dates for fear that she will be attacked again. If not addressed, avoidance behavior can become more extreme and interfere with a person's quality of life. Avoidance can also make PTSD symptoms stick around longer or even become worse. Because people with anxiety and phobias often avoid certain situations, thoughts, and emotions, they don't have the opportunity to learn that these situations may not be quite as dangerous or threatening as they seem. Avoidance also interferes with people working through their thoughts, memories, and emotions. The goal of exposure therapy then is to help reduce a person's fear and anxiety, with the ultimate goal of eliminating avoidance behavior and increasing quality of life. This is done by actively confronting the things that a person fears most. By confronting feared situations, thoughts, and emotions, a person can learn that anxiety and fear will lessen on their own. The Best Online Therapy Programs We've tried, tested and written unbiased reviews of the best online therapy programs including Talkspace, Betterhelp, and Regain. Now, for exposure therapy to be effective, it is very important that people confront a situation that closely maps onto what they fear most. However, this may not always be possible for a person with PTSD. For example, a veteran who developed PTSD as a result of combat exposure would not be able to confront a combat situation again. It would unsafe to do so. This is where virtual reality technology comes in. Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy Can Help People Overcome Phobias Using Virtual Reality for Exposure In VRET, an individual is immersed in a computer-generated virtual environment, either through the use of a head-mounted display device or entry into a computer-automated room where images are present all around. This environment can be programmed to help the person directly confront feared situations or locations that may not be safe to encounter in real life. There is some evidence which shows that VRET may be useful for treating several different anxiety disorders and anxiety-related problems. Some examples include claustrophobia, fear of driving, acrophobia (or a fear of heights), fear of flying, arachnophobia (or a fear of spiders), and social anxiety. In addition, a couple of studies have been done that test how useful VRET may be for PTSD. VRET for PTSD has primarily been examined in Vietnam War combat veterans. Therefore, the virtual environment in which a person is immersed has included imagery that a soldier may come into contact with during combat, such as helicopters and jungles. These studies found that, following VRET, soldiers experienced a reduction in their PTSD symptoms. Some studies have also examined whether VRET may be effective in reducing PTSD symptoms among soldiers from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Similar to what was found among Vietnam veterans, it appears as though VRET can reduce PTSD symptoms in such vets. Treatment Options for PTSD Finding a Therapist Who Uses VRET VRET is an expensive technology. So, not all clinicians currently use this procedure. Until VRET is more widely available, it is important to know that exposure therapy (without virtual reality) remains a very effective way of reducing PTSD symptoms, and there are many therapists who do exposure therapy. Virtual Reality Exercise May Help Lower Stress Levels 4 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Botella C, Serrano B, baños R, García-Palacios A. Virtual reality exposure-based therapy for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder: a review of its efficacy, the adequacy of the treatment protocol, and its acceptability. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2015:2533. doi:10.2147/ndt.s89542 Kothgassner O, Goreis A, Kafka J, Van Eickels R, Plener P, Felnhofer A. Virtual reality exposure therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD): a meta-analysis. Eur J Psychotraumatol. 2019;10(1):1654782. doi:10.1080/20008198.2019.1654782 Jaeger J, Echiverri A, Zoellner L, Post L, Feeny N. Factors associated with choice of exposure therapy for PTSD. International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy. 2010;5(3-4):294-310. doi:10.1037/h0100890 Page S, Coxon M. Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy for Anxiety Disorders: Small Samples and No Controls?. Front Psychol. 2016;7. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00326 By Matthew Tull, PhD Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? 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