Veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often experience a cluster of symptoms, including flashbacks and nightmares, emotional numbness and hyperarousal, which results in difficulty sleeping, angry outbursts and feeling constantly on guard or jumpy.
“A veteran might be mowing his lawn on a peaceful summer’s day and suddenly the smell of gasoline from the lawn mower will trigger a flashback to a terrifying roadside bomb attack he experienced while serving in Afghanistan,” USC Dornsife alumnus Marat Zanov said.
Russian-born Zanov, who earned a Ph.D. in psychology in 2009, knows what he’s talking about. A former U.S. Air Force captain, he served for six years, during which time he was deployed for six months in hostile territory in Afghanistan’s Parwan province. There, he flew the U.S. flag over his forward operating base (FOB), later donating it to the Department of Psychology at USC Dornsife, where it now hangs on a wall in the main office.
As a military clinical psychologist, Zanov treated many cases of PTSD, as well as a broad range of traditional clinical problems.
The day after leaving the Air Force, Zanov joined friend and fellow psychology alumna Dawn McDaniel at Virtually Better, Inc., a Decatur, Georgia-based research and development start-up, which uses virtual reality technology to treat numerous anxiety disorders including PTSD. There, Zanov is using his insights as a military clinical psychologist, coupled with his personal experience of deployment in Afghanistan, to fine tune the virtual reality environments the company offers to providers treating patients with PTSD and other anxiety disorders.