Strictly speaking, using virtual reality to treat combat-related P.T.S.D. is not new. In 1997, more than twenty years after the Vietnam War ended, researchers in Atlanta unveiled Virtual Vietnam. It dropped viewers into one of two scenarios: a jungle clearing with a “hot” landing zone, or a Huey helicopter, its rotors whirring, its body casting a running shadow over rice paddies, a dense tropical forest, and a river. The graphics were fairly crude, and the therapist had a limited number of sights and sounds to manipulate, but Virtual Vietnam had the effect of putting old soldiers back in the thick of war. Ten combat veterans with long-term P.T.S.D. who had not responded to multiple interventions participated in a clinical trial of Virtual Vietnam, typically lasting a month or two. All of them showed significant signs of improvement, both directly after treatment and in a follow-up half a year later. (P.T.S.D. is assessed on a number of scales, some subjective and others based on the observation of the clinician.) As successful as it was, though, Virtual Vietnam didn’t catch on. It was an experiment, and when the experiment was over the researchers moved on.
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