In the past here at PCU, we’ve featured organizations like the Able Gamers Charity and Special Effect, which do amazing things for gamers with disabilities. Along those lines, we now bring you a look into some emerging treatment for veterans who suffer the sometimes debilitating effects of PTSD, depression, and anxiety, brought on by their time in the service. Studies at the National Institute of Health have revealed that ‘Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy’ (VRET) may hold some amazing promise in treating these issues.
VRET works by exposing an individual to scenarios which attempt to recreate the events the individual experienced. The idea behind this is, through repeated exposures in a therapist-controlled environment, these veterans will begin to decrease their perception of threat in their everyday lives. Simon Lau, a clinical psychology doctoral candidate at the University of Houston (and a veteran himself), has been studying the psychological effects of deployment on military families. He had this to say about the treatments: “Focus-based and virtual reality games can be extremely beneficial when aimed at providing relief from trauma.” Lau went on to say, “When certain fears are avoided, they tend to become stronger, but if you confront that fear in a controlled environment, that fear will usually decrease or (even) extinguish.”
The United States’ Office of Naval Research has designed & evaluated games like Virtual Afghanistan and Virtual Iraq specifically for veterans, and specifically for use in VRET treatments. These games are used at the University of Houston’s Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and the Houston Veterans Affairs office also uses Virtual Iraq to expose veterans who live with PTSD to reminders of the trauma they experienced in an effort to stop their symptoms.
According to the Journal of Cyber Therapy and Rehabilitation, most studies have indicated a 66 to 90 percent rate of success in treatment when VRET replaced or supplemented traditional cognitive treatments. Many veterans have also credited console & PC games as a major part of their recovery after deployment. Senior biochemistry major Kenny Morales, who suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) while serving in combat, told The Daily Cougar that he turned to games like Destiny, Warframe, and Mortal Kombat as “an escape.” “With physical limitations, the games kept me sane and from becoming depressed,” Morales said. Morales also stated that gaming helped with many of the cognitive brain issues that he was having as a result of his TBI.
Video games as therapy largely came into the scope of treatment in 2010. Since then, strides like this one have continuously been made, and with any luck, will continue to advance the way we help those with mental illnesses. However, Celina Dugas, a licensed clinical social worker and the director of Veteran Services at the University of Houston, warns against individuals “self-prescribing” video games as treatment. “I can imagine that it could be just like anything that makes you ‘feel better’,” Dugas is quoted as saying, “but can too much lead to another addiction?”
With the advancements being made using video games and virtual environments as therapeutic tools, getting effective treatment to those who struggle with these sometimes debilitating mental illnesses will hopefully improve steadily in the years to come.