Virtual reality exposure therapy significantly reduced posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms in veterans and active duty military personnel, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders.
Researchers of this study randomly assigned military personnel into either a trauma management therapy arm (n=49), who received virtual reality exposure therapy and a group session for anger, depression, and social isolation, or an exposure arm (n=43) who received virtual reality exposure therapy and psychoeducation group sessions. Clinical Administered Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Scale and the Posttraumatic Stress Disorders Checklist-Military Version were administered at baseline, mid-treatment, post-treatment, 3-month follow up, and 6-month follow up.
Results from both scales showed statistically significant reductions in posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms from baseline to post-treatment that held consistent through the 6-month follow-up in both study arms. Anger and depression also improved significantly, while social interactions and sleep did not show significant improvements.
Further studies are needed to evaluate different methods for improving social interactions and sleep quality, the high drop out rates of posttraumatic stress disorder treatments, and different models of virtual reality.
In conclusion, results from this study show that virtual reality exposure therapy improved posttraumatic stress disorders symptoms, had no adverse events, and maintained improvements for 6 months post treatment. However, “although [it] was not part of the original hypothesis, sleep was not improved by either intervention and remained problematic,” the researchers noted. “The results support the use of [virtual reality exposure therapy] for combat-related PTSD, but suggest that [virtual reality] alone does not result in optimal treatment outcomes across domains associated with [posttraumatic stress disorder].
Beidel DC, Frueh BC, Neer SM, et al. Trauma management therapy with virtual-reality augmented exposure therapy for combat-related PTSD: A randomized controlled trial [published online August 23, 2017]. J Anxiety Disord. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2017.08.005