Virtual Reality Therapy: Using immersive virtual reality games to help reduce suffering

Speaker  Hunter Hoffman

Affiliation  University of Washington Human Interface Technology Lab

Host  John Nordlinger

Duration  01:11:32

Date recorded  6 June 2007

My colleague Dave Patterson and I originated the technique of letting pediatric burn patients escape into virtual reality during painful medical procedures at Harborview Burn Center in Seattle (with help from Gretchen Carrougher and Sam Sharar, MD.

In SnowWorld, children wearing head tracked immersive VR helmets have the illusion of going into a 3D computer generated world where they are distracted from their burn pain during burn wound care by throwing snowballs at Snowmen, Igloos, Mammoths and Penguins while listening to music by Paul Simon.

SnowWorld is a therapeutic virtual world designed for burn patients, with funding from Paul Allen. SnowWorld is currently on exhibit at the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design Triennial in Manhattan, NY. On May 4th, at my presentation at MSR, you will get a hands on immersive demo of SnowWorld via my custom designed table mounted immersive VR goggles. Below is a photo of a burn patient in SnowWorld during wound care while sitting in a hydro tank at Harborview (water-friendly VR).

In another line of research at the University of Washington VR Research Center (HITlab), we are exploring the use of immersive virtual reality to reduce emotional pain caused by terrorist attacks on Americans.

JoAnn Difede and I designed a computer simulation of the attacks on Sept 11th to help people process their excessive emotions associated with their memories of Sept 11th during therapy sessions Immersive virtual reality exposure therapy reduces Post Traumatic Stress Disorder even in patients who had failed to respond to conventional therapy.

Later this year, active duty U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will receive virtual reality exposure therapy to help process excessive emotions and habituate to their memories, as treatment for combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder.

These projects are examples of how gamer’s PC computers are transforming the way medicine is researched and conducted.

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