Psychologists using virtual reality to help treat PTSD in veterans


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Virtual reality is no longer reserved for entertainment and gamers, its helping solve real-world problems. Some of the latest advancements are being demonstrated at South by Southwest.

Dr. Skip Rizzo directs the Medical Virtual Reality Lab at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies. He’s helping veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He’s up teamed with Dell to develop and spread the technology to more people.

“This is a trauma-based methodology where basically you’re asking the patient to go back and confront and process the difficult emotional memories that surround the trauma,” said Dr. Rizzo.

The therapy isn’t easy, but Dr. Rizzo says it’s effective.

“There’s no doubt this is very challenging therapy, but as you go through that repeatedly, you start to see a decline in the activating anxiety. And all of a sudden patients are feeling empowered,” said Dr. Rizzo.

His team created 14 different worlds that can each be customized. They’re able to put patients in simulations similar to their real-life experiences. He says it’s effective because patients are facing their trauma, rather than trying to forget it or avoid it.

“Eventually as they do it more and more, a little bit more emotion comes out, a little bit more detail,” said Dr. Rizzo.

Rizzo says they’re also using virtual reality to help teenagers with autism improve their interview and communication skills.


At SXSW, Dell is also working to spread the word on its Ocean Plastics initiative. They’re working to pull plastics from the ocean and turn them into materials for laptops and other products. Advocates say if nothing is done to fix the problem, plastics will outweigh fish in the ocean in 30 years.

Actor Adrian Grenier is helping Dell’s mission, as its Dell Social Good Advocate.

“They’re going to make a big dent,” said Grenier. “And further more, they’re open-sourcing this program, there’s a white paper online to invite other companies to be a collaborator, so those companies can use ocean-bound plastic in their products.”

Grenier is also promoting his Stop Sucking campaign, to get straws out of the ocean. In America alone, he says 500 million plastic straws are used everyday, many end up in our waters.

Through its Ocean Plastics initiative, Dell hopes to achieve 100 percent sustainable packaging by 2020.

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