Virtual Reality Therapy


Imagine, if you will, having the power to temporarily escape your current reality for a virtual one.

While this might sound like an introduction to Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone, our story of U.S. Navy Reserve Veteran Sharon Thompson has a happy ending.

“Virtual reality puts me in a different atmosphere, almost like my own little world,” Thompson said. “I felt happy — like I was there, and the experience was real.”

Thompson was one of the first Veterans to try the new virtual reality systems donated by Soldier Strong. Her sessions included paint by number and matching objects of similar shapes and colors. The virtual reality simulator consists of a headpiece to view the altered reality and sensors hooked up to each hand, bicep and back.

“Virtual reality is another tool in our kit to help Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and cognitive impairments improve relaxation techniques and range of motion,” Carl Vinson VA Medical Center Recreation Therapy Supervisor Jane Helsing said. “We can monitor and track progress on a tablet controlling the programs being used by the Veteran.”

Data collected through these interactions can be compared over time to illustrate therapeutic progress, and other, more challenging programs can be added to enhance therapy sessions and achieve loftier goals.

Thompson, who deployed to Iraq, struggled with PTSD after redeploying home and is currently receiving inpatient treatment at the Dublin VAMC domiciliary.

“Virtual reality exposure therapy facilitates the emotional engagement of patients with PTSD during exposures to the multiple sensory stimuli made possible by the virtual environment, bypassing symptoms of avoidance and facilitating control on the part of the therapist,” according to a research paper titled “Efficacy of Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy in the Treatment of PTSD: A Systematic Review.”

“VRET can be particularly useful in the treatment of PTSD that is resistant to traditional exposure because it allows for greater engagement by the patient and, consequently, greater activation of the traumatic memory, which is necessary for the extinction of the conditioned fear.”

One of the benefits to incorporating virtual reality into PTSD and cognitive impairment therapies is that it provides a safe and welcoming environment. Focusing on the virtual world enables Thompson to temporarily disconnect from reality, allowing her to pursue her therapy calmly and happily. While Thompson is enjoying herself, Helsing is busy analyzing the data being recorded and looking forward to comparing the new data against previous sessions to gauge improvement.

Thompson is one of the few Veterans to spearhead new virtual reality therapies to help shape the interconnection of treatment and tech for the future. This happy ending was even beyond the imagination of World War II Army Veteran and Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, who would no doubt be proud.


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