For more than a decade, virtual reality (VR) has had a significant impact on behavioral healthcare, permeating the field with its multiple effective uses. One area in which VR shines is providing a continuum of care for the military to treat wounded warfighters. The Interactive Media Institute and its affiliate the Virtual Reality Medical Center are funded to provide VR as an adjunct to traditional training and therapeutic applications.
Pre-deployment, VR-enhanced Stress Inoculation Training (SIT) can be used to provide troops (e.g. combat medics, flight medics, tactical forces) with skill sets to accomplish their tasks. The immersive nature of VR allows soldiers to experience a near real-life combat situation and the precise control VR enables users to practice their tasks repetitively in identical or varied situations, whichever the individual trainee requires. Stressors can be increased systematically so that the skills learned can be performed under increasingly anxiety-provoking situations.
This creates soldiers who are better able to perform under the most demanding conditions. In addition, these virtual combat situations evoke physiological responses, creating the opportunity for troops to practice managing their stress reactions to high pressure or dangerous situations. It is hoped that this repetition and practice will produce soldiers who are more competent and resilient. Post-deployment, VR exposure can augment traditional cognitive-behavioral therapy protocols for treating Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While working with both active duty and veteran populations, it appears that VR exposure may be more effective in providing the individual with an environment in which he/she can stop the avoidance - often a hallmark of PTSD. In a VR environment, the individual is transported back into a wartime setting and can slowly and systematically begin to consolidate the fragmented memories in order to allow emotional processing to occur and desensitization to be achieved.
Finally, VR is being successfully used as an adjunct to traditional treatments for those with both chronic and acute pain, and for help in rehabilitating those who have sustained physical, cognitive or neurological injuries.