Volume 77
Number 4

Health for All

Fear of Flying

Flying II: High Anxiety

Virtual Vietnam

Uncovering the Past

Wired New World

Enigma: Physics Band

Emory University

Association of Emory Alumni

Current News and Events

Emory Report



Sports Updates





















































When Vietnam veterans struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder–which can include nightmares, hallucinations, panic attacks, and depression–the last place they want to go is back to the jungle.

But that's exactly where virtual reality exposure (VRE) therapy takes them.

Through computer-generated images and audio similar to that found in arcade video games, the therapy developed by Emory psychiatrist Barbara Rothbaum and Larry Hodges of Georgia Tech and administered by David Ready, a clinical psychologist at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center, creates a virtual Vietnam: jungle, shadows, helicopters, and the rat-tat-tat of machine gun fire.

VRE is a somewhat radical new arrival to the vast field of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatment. The technique uses controlled exposure to trigger each client’s trauma and allows the therapist to help them deal with it head-on.

“PTSD, especially thirty years later, is a really tough disorder to treat,” Ready says. “The VA has 136 programs devoted to PTSD, but this is one of the very few that goes beyond trying to stabilize and prevent deterioration. This program is aimed at reducing symptoms and increasing functionality.”

The treatment is tailored to individual clients and their traumatic memories, Ready says. From the computer keyboard, he can control the experience of any given individual client based on what he senses they can handle, and counsel them through the rough times. “I am responding on a moment-by-moment basis,” he says. “It’s kind of like being a movie director.”

About twenty veterans have been through VRE therapy, with positive results. One particularly dramatic case was featured in an Atlanta Journal Constitution story about VRE treatment for Vietnam vets.

“He is doing things like attending his daughter’s basketball games, weddings, taking his wife out to dinner. These are things he simply has not done since he returned from Vietnam,” Ready says. “I call him Rip Van Winkle. It’s like he’s waking up after being asleep for thirty years.”



© 2002 Emory University