Army Looks Into Treating PTSD with Dream Manipulation

By Veronique Greenwood | October 21, 2011 3:27 pm


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:

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

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Mind & Brain
  • atlanticblue

    Yeah I get this, like watching tv shows with lovable caracters makes me forget about work and my awful relationships with other people and fall asleep. I think it might be humiliating for soldiers though. It makes me think of a scene in Happy gilmore where he imagines his grandma winning the lotery and a dwarf on a bicycle. What.. is a soldier supposed to say he thinks looking at a woman smiling and pretty flowers is soothing? Sometimes scientists are pushy too. I don’t know…Maybe they should go on vacation instead of the politicians. I think it’s worth a shot, but they better be god damn pretty pictures…

  • John Korkow

    You know, I see many clients who have experienced the varieties of military approved therapy for PTSD, most of which involve rehearsing (or what neurologists would call “strengthening the connection via the adage— neurons that fire together, wire together”)… and making the problem far worse. I have sent numerous clients for emdr therapy, with excellent results. Why the military persists in their refusal to move forward on this issue mystifies me. It’s called Evidence based therapy folks!

  • Darien

    Humiliating? To seek comfort after trauma? The attitude that soldiers are machines without feelings, and that even acknowledging or tending to the damage caused is somehow ‘weak’ is part of the problem that gets them to this point in the first place.

  • kirk

    The Army has absolutely no plans to weaponize this technology. Get back to work. Nothing to see here.

  • Lark

    There is a thin, thin line between treating PTSD and creating retraumatization. I would not trust the US Army to find that line any more than I would trust them to treat a lab rat humanely. The technology sounds perfect for brainwashing and other various combative activities.

  • Brad

    The Army is just trying to fix what they have done to young men that have served in hand-to-hand combat but ultimately who is at fault here? THE ARMY, they messed the mens heads up they are responsible for fixing them!

  • Ted McCormick

    The US Army wants to find an easy answer to solve their PTSD dilema.
    This condition is permanent. No “quick fix”, or gimick is going to fix this problem despite claims and studies to the contary. It is up to the individual to taylor his own treatment plan.

    What works are meds, cognitive therapy, avoidance of substance abuse, and a solid family unit. All the rest have limited results, ie, EMDR,etc. Its all wishfull thinking based on questionable data.

  • floodmouse

    Using VR to calm down after nightmares is not so different than using TV as a babysitter. It’s a passive not an active modality. Breathing-control exercises, meditation, and biofeedback are active modalities that allow the sufferer to establish control over his/her own mind & body. VR used as an adjunct to active modalities might be useful, but by itself it’s no different than drugs or TV.

  • John Korkow

    EMDR is an extraordinarily well researched therapy. APA trauma division lists it as the primary therapy for PTSD. Evidenced based is always best.


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