Spotlight TEDx Talk: How virtual reality is helping soldiers recover from war


A patient using  TEDxManhattanBeach speaker Skip Rizzo’s virtual reality program, Bravemind, developed to rehabilitate veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder

In Skip Rizzo’s lab at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies, soldiers use VR headsets to relive some of the most traumatic experiences of their lives. These headsets run a program called “Bravemind” — a simulation of Iraq and Afghanistan war zones designed to assess and treat combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans through exposure therapy.

At TEDxManhattanBeach, Rizzo explains how Bravemind works and how clinicians can use it to help veterans with PTSD. When Bravemind is used with patients, clinicians modify the application to fit each patient’s needs, he says, allowing veterans to confront specific traumatic memories “in a safe and supportive environment,” as a video introducing the product explains. “The clinician controls everything that goes on in the simulations,” Rizzo says, “they can change the time of day, the weather, the lighting, ambient sounds.”


A still from Bravemind (Courtesy Skip Rizzo)

While reliving traumatic memories sounds purely negative, it helps in the healing process of those with PTSD, Rizzo says. “You’re probably thinking, ‘Why the hell would you do that to somebody with PTSD?’” he says in his talk, “but in actuality, this form of treatment — this graduated confrontation and processing of difficult, emotional memories — is probably the best evidence-based approach for curing or easing the pain of PTSD.”

In a 2010 study of the efficacy of Bravemind to treat PSTD, Rizzo and colleagues found that out of 20 veterans diagnosed with PSTD before using Bravemind, 16 no longer met the American Psychiatric Association’s criteria for PTSD after treatment with the software.

As technology develops, so will tools like Bravemind, Rizzo says, who also works on VR job interview software to help people on the autism spectrum practice job interviews, and VR therapists to give veterans access to non-threatening, always-available outlets for emotional support after returning from war.

To learn more, watch Rizzo’s whole talk below:

Insights from the TEDx office: Why we like this talk

  • The speaker is passionate about his field and has a thorough knowledge of its history. He is doing innovative work in the present with a team of colleagues that holds promise for future breakthroughs in medicine and social psychology. He presents new technology accompanied by data and thorough explanation, with visual aids and clear examples.


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