Mental Health

Virtual Reality Therapy Uses Scents to Treat PTSD

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The student newspaper at the University of Central Florida recently published an article about an interesting new clinical trial that is ongoing in the UCF Anxiety Disorders Clinic in the Department of Psychology. The Trauma Management Therapy Program treats combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder with virtual reality equipment that simulates scenes and even smells tailored to the veteran's specific trauma. The program is unique in that it is the first large-scale clinical research program on PTSD in veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to incorporate smell into the virtul reality sessions.

As Dr. Sandra Neer, research assistant professor for the program, explains, "Exposure therapy is the most effective treatment that we have for PTSD and participants will receive one-on-one treatment using the Virtual-Reality equipment to simulate specific combat zones that have been the cause of nightmares, flashbacks or intrusive thoughts."

The program is 17 weeks long and includes an intitial 5 weeks of personal-exposure therapy sessions followed by 12 weeks of group therapy to help the participants readjust to civilian life. Half of the participants will receive group therapy focused on anger management, interpersonal skills, and behavioral activation to cope with depression; the other half will participate in a more traditional PTSD group therapy, in which veterans help group members share experiences and advice.

The program is free for military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afganistan, 11% to 20% of whom have suffered from PTSD (according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs).

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