What’s the News: Recurring nightmares can cast a pall over anyone’s waking life, and for soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, they can also contribute to panic attacks, flashbacks, and violent behavior. Can soothing, dream-like experiences in a virtual world, entered immediately after a nightmare runs its course, tame those bad dreams? It seems like a kind of real-life inception, but it’s not as far fetched as you’d think: the Army is investigating just such a treatment, Dawn Lim at Wired’s Danger Room reports.
How the Heck:
- The idea builds on existing treatments used for PTSD, including image rehearsal therapy, in which therapists work with patients to identify triggers and devise ways to defuse them, and biofeedback, in which patients watch real-time data on their stress levels on a computer screen and observe how different relaxation techniques help bring the levels to normal.
- In the proposed treatment, a soldier waking up from a PTSD nightmare can put on 3D vision goggles and enter an animated world populated with comforting sights. The world will be one he’s built himself in visits to his clinic, where, using biofeedback to track his response, he has trained himself to relax when he sees these images.
- The world accessible through the goggles, army researchers hope, will help him calm down after a frightening dream, giving him a weapon against an otherwise overwhelming foe. Over time, this trained relaxation may help the nightmares lessen in intensity and frequency.
What’s the Context:
- Virtual reality treatments for PSTD have been used in the past, most notably ones in which the traumatic scene is recreated, in order to desensitize patients to it. But the process is itself stressful, and soldiers may drop out of the treatment.
The Future Holds: Experiments on the way to developing such a treatment, which the Army calls “power dreaming,” are planned at Naval Hospital Bremerton, in Washington. Last week, the Army awarded about half a million dollars to a contractor to aid in its development, and Danger Room reports that the research project should get under way next year.
[via Danger Room]
Image courtesy of whatleydude / flickr