Virtual Iraq

Virtual Iraq is a set of virtual reality environments created to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom (OIF/OEF) combat service men and women as well as those who have served in Afghanistan. The development and clinical evaluation of Virtual Iraq was funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR Award No: N000140510384), a project that lasted three years.

The idea of Virtual Iraq is credited to Dr Albert “Skip” Rizzo, a clinical psychologist from the University of Southern California. Dr. Rizzo, with colleagues from University of Southern California/Institute of Creative Technologies (USC/ICT), adapted the video game “Full Spectrum Warrior” to create the clinical tool now known as Virtual Iraq. In its current form, Virtual Iraq represents the collaborative efforts of USC/ICT, Naval Medical Center-San Diego (NMC-SD), Virtually Better Inc. (VBI), and the Geneva Foundation, all of which have been involved in the ongoing efforts to empirically evaluate and improve this innovative technology to treat PTSD.

From a clinical standpoint, Virtual Iraq is form of Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET), a virtual reality approach to conducting prolonged exposure (PE) therapy, one of the most evidence-based methods of psychotherapeutic treatment for post-traumatic stress.  PE is a cognitive-behavioral intervention in which the patient is virtually exposed (for 30-45 minutes per session) to a variety of stimuli (i.e., visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and olfactory) with the purpose of having the patient gradually face the fearful experiences that underlie his/her traumatic memories until habituation to the anxiety occurs.

For more information about Virtual Iraq and individuals involved in its development and testing, see Military studies virtual reality as therapy for post traumatic stress disorder“, and in the New Yorker, “Virtual Iraq, Using simulation to treat a new generation of traumatized vetereans.”