Imagine military veterans suffering with PTSD reliving recreated scenarios through virtual reality technology to help them process that memory and regain control of their lives.
One of the core approaches to treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder at UCF Restores is exposure therapy with fully immersive virtual reality. Patients are guided through specifics of their traumatic experience, including sights, sounds and smells.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, a Virtual Technology treatment method will expand within weeks at UCF Restores.
UCF Restores is a nonprofit clinical research center and treatment clinic at the University of Central Florida. It was established to change the way post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma-related disorders are understood, diagnosed and treated.
I was surprised to find that the UCF Restores has been operating for 10 years. In addition, faculty and staff work alongside UCF graduate students who receive real-world experience in clinical research and treatment.
“I think it has been well received by veterans,” said Dr. Deborah Beidel, executive director of UCF Restores and professor of psychology and medical education. “We also are a training facility.”
It began as a government-funded research initiative in 2011 and has grown to serve as an invaluable resource to the Orlando community, Florida and beyond. It also trains mental health professionals, some of whom now practice at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities.
The clinic’s unique approach to treatment – including the first-of-its-kind, three-week intensive outpatient program – combines exposure therapy, emerging technology, and one-on-one and group therapy sessions.
UCF Restores serves not only veterans and active-duty military, but also first responders, frontline medical personnel, survivors of sexual assault, survivors of mass violence and natural disasters, and others affected by trauma.
The treatment program includes transportation. “For instance, if someone is accepted for treatment and is from out of town, the program is able to cover lodging and inter-city transportation costs.”?
The program started out treating young veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It since has treated Vietnam War veterans and even a veteran of the Korean War.
It is never too late to seek help for PTSD.
Some time after treatment, 66 percent of veterans and 76 percent of first responders were back to some normalcy.
“They got their lives back,” Beidel said. “One vet said to me, ‘You gave me my life back.’ ”
She said the patients received a follow-up six months after treatment because it is important to know they are still well.