q PTSD :: Virtual 9/11 Brings Ground Zero Survivors Real Healing | Health | Spirit India

PTSD :: Virtual 9/11 Brings Ground Zero Survivors Real Healing

Psychologists estimate that hundreds, even thousands, of people directly affected by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, are still crippled by post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We are getting tons of calls for 9/11-related post-traumatic stress disorder — it’s five years out, and we are still seeing people who have never had treatment,” said Judith Cukor, an instructor in the department of psychiatry at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “A lot of people have had traditional treatment, too, but it’s not helping.”

Cukor is supervising a unique clinical trial that uses high-tech virtual reality to help fight the more stubborn cases of 9/11-linked post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. “We’re seeing very positive results here, in terms of people finally getting better,” she said.

For people who suffer from the emotional numbness, terrifying flashbacks, nightmares and avoidance behaviors of PTSD, “exposure therapy” remains the gold-standard treatment. The therapy involves patients being asked to imagine in detail the past event that caused them such pain.

It sounds counterintuitive, but this type of controlled re-exposure “allows your brain to metabolize it, break it down and deal with it,” Cukor explained. “At the end of the treatment, people’s memories are still sad and difficult, but they are not taking over their lives.”

In many cases, however, simply imagining the scene isn’t enough.

“Sometimes people aren’t able to engage when they close their eyes — they are still avoiding,” explained Cukor, an instructor in the department of psychiatry at Weill Cornell. “That’s where virtual reality comes in.”

The new project at Weill Cornell uses state-of-the-art, multi-sensory technology to create a “virtual reality 9/11” that helps PTSD patients break through that avoidance “wall” and find the path to healing. During a typical session, patients stand in place, wearing the type of video-equipped helmet usually associated with high-end video games.

So far, the researchers have noted dramatic outcomes for PTSD patients using the “virtual 9/11” approach.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a term for certain psychological consequences of exposure to, or confrontation with, stressful experiences that the person experiences as highly traumatic. [1] The experience must involve actual or threatened death, serious physical injury, or a threat to physical and/or psychological integrity. It is occasionally called post-traumatic stress reaction to emphasize that it is a routine result of traumatic experience rather than a manifestation of a pre-existing psychological weakness on the part of the patient.

It is possible for individuals to experience traumatic stress without manifesting Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, as indicated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Symptoms of PTSD can include the following: nightmares, flashbacks, emotional detachment or numbing of feelings (emotional self-mortification or dissociation), insomnia, avoidance of reminders and extreme distress when exposed to the reminders (“triggers”), irritability, hypervigilance, memory loss, and excessive startle response, clinical depression and anxiety, loss of appetite.

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