Designing VR Exposure Therapy Simulations for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders

Here’s an article on Serious Game Source by Ari Hollander from Imprint talking about how VR can help therapists :

“Virtual reality (VR) provides a tool that can allow therapists to gradually intensify a simulation of the traumatic events rather than relying on pure talk and storytelling. (..) At Imprint Interactive, we have been involved with a number of PTSD VR exposure therapy research projects (..)

These include a simulation of the tragic events of 9/11/01, a simulation of a terrorist bus bombing for a research group at the University of Haifa in Israel, and two simulations for treating U.S. soldiers returning from Middle East conflict. (..)

This is a familiar goal in both game design and VR. In game design we call the engagement process “fun” (..) . In VR we call the engagement process presence.

The (..) goal is to make the environment sufficiently reminiscent of the patient’s experience that it evokes memories of the traumatic events.

These applications include functionality that allows therapists to dynamically control the intensity of the experience for the patient, increasing or decreasing the level of stimulation and tension according to the level of anxiety.

Design Guidelines

Our job as virtual environment designers is to seek the sweet spot on the suspension of disbelief curve and avoid wasting resources that would only be dumped into the Uncanny Valley. In the case of VR Exposure Therapy applications I would suggest that the metaphor does double-duty and can also inform our selection of appropriate content to achieve reminiscence: we seek the sweet spot on the curve where we have included sufficient contextual details to evoke responses from a wide variety of patients without adding too much specific information that could distract from some patients’ experiences. (..)

– Favor the suggestive over the specific. (..)
– Use intentional ambiguity to cover a range of possible scenarios. (..)
– Use systemic designs and parallel information to specify and disambiguate. (..)

More than one researcher has reported that VR Exposure therapy patients, when recalling their therapy experiences, have occasionally described significant components of their experience in VR that were not actually present in the simulation!”

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