Professor Albert (Skip) Rizzo of the University of Southern California is the world authority on using Virtual Reality in psychology and medicine. He has pioneered techniques using virtual reality game-based rehabilitation.
Professor Rizzo is based at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies
One way Professor Rizzo has been using the technique is to help soldiers returning from war zones deal with the trauma of their experiences.
He uses virtual reality - which works as a kind of exposure therapy for soldiers struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after serving in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
He is in New Zealand to hold a series of talks about this emerging field and its applications in other areas, including as a social training tool for people on the autism spectrum.
“To treat PTSD we create a large repertoire of simulations in Iraq and Afghanistan and we take somebody who has been traumatised and help them to go back in the simulation to confront and process very difficult emotional memories.”
And he says there is good evidence to back the approach.
“By gradually exposing people to what they were traumatised by, you’re giving them the opportunity to talk about it and do it in safe environment, you see significant clinical gains in symptom reduction.”
And with VR technology now so hyper real, the brain can be ‘tricked’ he says, bringing with it therapeutic benefits.
“We call it ‘extinction of the fear’ by many exposures to the feared stimuli at a progressive and gradual pace, a patient’s fear starts to diminish and they can start to do things no just in the virtual world, but it transfers to the real world.
“When you do it in a supportive clinical setting with a good, well-trained clinician that’s when you start to see the gains.”
You can register for Prof. Rizzo's talk, Clinical Virtual Reality: A Brief Review of the Future here.