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Therapeutic Media: Treating PTSD with Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy

Kathrin Friedrich


Applying head-mounted displays (HMDs) and virtual reality scenarios in virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) promises to alleviate combat-related post-traumatic stress disorders (among others). Its basic premise is that, through virtual scenarios, patients may re-engage immersively with situations that provoke anxiety, thereby reducing fear and psychosomatic stress. In this context, HMDs and visualizations should be considered not merely as devices for entertainment purposes or tools for achieving pragmatic objectives but also as a means to instruct and guide patients’ imagination and visual perception in triggering traumatic experiences. Under what perceptual and therapeutic conditions is virtual therapy to be considered effective? Who is the “ideal” patient for such therapy regimes, both in terms of his/her therapeutic indications and his/her perceptual readiness to engage with VR scenarios? In short, how are “treatable” patients conceptualized by and within virtual therapy? From a media-theory perspective, this essay critically explores various aspects of the VRET application Bravemind in order to shed light on conditions of virtual exposure therapy and conceptions of subjectivity and traumatic experience that are embodied and replicated by such HMD-based technology.


HMD, virtual scenario; virtual reality exposure therapy; PTSD; HCI design; visual trigger; imagination; therapeutic effect

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