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Grand-Theft Auto It's Not. Video Games Ease Soldiers' PTSD

Grand-Theft Auto It's Not. Video Games Ease Soldiers' PTSD

Soldiers and Marines are iron tough in battle — though the biggest enemy they face sometimes doesn't show up until they get home. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or major depression afflicts nearly 20 percent of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. One-half don't seek treatment. But a new treatment, Virtual Iraq, allows troops to delve into their trauma without landing on the couch.

With many soldiers avoiding treatment out of fear of stigma, a customized version of the best-selling videogame Full Spectrum Warrior has become a promising option. Since 2005, the Department of Defense has poured funding into it and two other virtual-reality programs targeting PTSD. And psychologists like JoAnn Difede — who treated Sept. 11 victims with a similar program called Virtual WTC — are hopeful. She said:

You don't have to do any work. You don't have to engage in any mental effort. We'll do it for you and then, gradually, we'll let you get involved in the experience in sensory detail.

Slow and steady wins the race with this therapy. A patient's readiness to move on must be carefully assessed. Looking at an Iraqi street scene may begin and end the first session, but slowly sounds and smells and actions are added. It can take months.

How is this even helpful? To see how,


It's a form of prolonged-exposure, or immersion, therapy. The idea is to expose a patient to the source of trauma over and over until the event or situation no longer triggers fear. If you remember psychology and this sounds a lot like "habituation," it's because it is. (Does Pavlov ring a bell? Heh! Bell.)

While results are still pending on the efficacy of Virtual Iraq so far it's promising. After a few weeks of exposure, one marine was able to sleep without medication, felt more relaxed, and could joke around. He said:

Before I felt like there were two people in me. The marine who was numb, who was a tough guy, and the civilian in me, the real me, the guy who isn't serious all the time, the guy who can take a joke. By the end of therapy, I felt more like one person.

Should we be exploring more cutting-edge methods of treating the whole soldier? Could forcing them to relive the sights, sounds, and smells of battle, actually help soldiers cope?


Join The Conversation
Sugarblonde Sugarblonde 9 years
I think this may help in strategy & handling situations.. but it still doesn't mean they will be prepared for what they see. I think essentially they will never be fully prepared. Oh and regarding the PSS - I know lots of former Marines that simply told the Marine dr's they were ok... because they wanted to get out. That doesn't mean they were ok, especially psychologically.
jennifer76 jennifer76 9 years
Whatever works.
raciccarone raciccarone 9 years
I know when I came back from touring the zombie infested world where the undead waited to eat my flesh, Duke Nukem really made me feel whole again.
colormesticky colormesticky 9 years
Anything that helps my friends not dive under the table at a champagne cork popping is great in my book.
wren1 wren1 9 years
As someone in the mental health field, I love this idea. Nice to see the government investing in SOMETHING to help our vets. They need so much more!! :rant:
MarinerMandy MarinerMandy 9 years
This is awesome. I've read that it's even harder for the reserve soldiers to adjust to coming back home. One day you're in a war zone where you are on high alert, the next you're sitting in your suburban home trying to live a normal life. I really hope this helps a lot of soldiers because I think it is so sad to have them suffer for serving their country.
mondaymoos mondaymoos 9 years
If it works, I'm all for it. I know of a lot of soldiers who suffer from this and don't even admit to it. I wish there was a way to get them help too. :(
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