A new virtual-reality program developed at USC is allowing veterans to relive the trauma of war, in an effort to help them recover.

The experience puts the veteran in a virtual world that includes VR glasses, a vibrating chair and even the smells of war like diesel and burning rubber. The idea is to live through the trauma again, but this time in a safe environment with a counselor talking them through the incident.

The technology called Bravemind was developed by Dr. Skip Rizzo at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies.

“Essentially my goal is to drag psychology kicking and screaming into the 21st century,” Rizzo said.

After 10 years in the U.S. Marines, Christopher Merkle tried to go back to his normal life but post-traumatic-stress disorder took over.

“It just got to a point where it was inhibiting my functioning, going back to school, dealing with family, dealing with friends,” Merkle said. “It got to the point where I had to reach
out for help”

Merkle tried the virtual-reality program and found it is helping him work through his issues.

“It’s a form of treatment I thought would be more effective,” he said. “It would get right to the problem. I said I’m not a very good talker about deep issues. I knew this would force me to bring out these issues.”

The virtual reality therapy typically requires 10 sessions and is being administered at 60 sites including Veterans Administration hospitals.

Research in this field is ongoing and Rizzo continues to develop new realistic situations which he hopes will provide healing for his patients.

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