Enhancing Exposure Therapy for PTSD: Virtual Reality and Imaginal Exposure With a Cognitive Enhancer
More than 20 years of PTSD treatment research has demonstrated that Prolonged Exposure (PE) is a very effective treatment in terms of positive outcomes for this disorder. In traditional PE, patients close their eyes and recount their trauma memory to the therapist. The current study being conducted, however, examines both traditional PE and PE enhanced by virtual reality. Virtual reality therapy keeps the patients’ eyes open during the retelling of their traumatic event. The therapist enhances the “virtual environment” by incorporating sights and sounds through a headset that match the patient’s trauma story. Both treatments consist of 9 total individual therapy sessions lasting 90 minutes each.
Additionally, patients participating in the study are randomly assigned to take either a low dose of D-Cycloserine (DCS; a broad-spectrum antibiotic) or a placebo pill prior to their weekly session to examine the effects of DCS on treatment. Previous studies have found that DCS is a useful pharmacological tool for the enhancement of learning. This study will test whether DCS can speed up the therapeutic response to PE. Thus, this treatment study combines psychological and pharmacological strategies with state of the art technology to address the symptoms associated with PTSD.
The current study is open to veterans or active duty military who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and have experienced combat related PTSD. An initial screening is first conducted to determine study eligibility. Once enrolled PTSD symptoms are assessed and monitored prior to beginning therapy, during the course of treatment, and at a 3-month follow-up session. Participants will be compensated for all completed assessments, up to a total of $350. As per Department of Defense regulations, current Active Duty military personnel cannot be reimbursed for participation in the study unless they are on official military leave status at the time. Instead, Active Duty military will be asked to choose a charity to which the money will be donated.