Skipp Rizzo – Virtual Reality Goes to War – Advances in the Prevention Assessment and Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress


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War is perhaps one of the most challenging situations that a human being can experience. The physical, emotional, cognitive and psychological demands of a combat environment place enormous stress on even the best-prepared military personnel. Numerous reports indicate that the incidence of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in returning OEF/OIF military personnel is creating a significant healthcare challenge. This situation has served to motivate research on how to better develop and disseminate evidence-based treatments for PTSD and other psycho social conditions. In this regard, Virtual Reality delivered exposure therapy for PTSD is currently being used with initial reports of positive outcomes. This presentation will detail how virtual reality applications are being designed and implemented across various points in the military deployment cycle to prevent, identify and treat combat-related PTSD in OIF/OEF Service Members and Veterans. We will also present recent work being done with artificially intelligent virtual humans that serve in the role as “Virtual Patients” for clinical training of healthcare providers in both military and civilian settings and as online healthcare guides for breaking down barriers to care. The projects in these areas that will presented have been developed at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies, a U.S. Army University Affiliated Research Center, and will provide a diverse overview of how virtual reality is being used to deliver exposure therapy, assess PTSD and cognitive function, provide stress resilience training prior to deployment and its use in breaking down barriers to care. The talk will conclude with a discussion of how the urgency of war has provided the context and funding for the advancement of these technologies that will soon translate to civilian needs.

Speaker Bio: Albert “Skip” Rizzo is a Clinical and Neuro- Psychologist, and Associate Director of the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies. Skip conducts research on the design, development and evaluation of VR systems targeting the areas of clinical assessment, treatment and rehabilitation. In the psychological domain, he has directed the development/implementation of the Virtual Iraq/Afghanistan VR exposure therapy system for combat-related PTSD and is involved in translating these simulation assets for PTSD assessment and prevention (stress resilience). His cognitive work has addressed the use of VR applications to test and train cognitive functioning. In the motor domain, he develops VR game-based applications to promote rehabilitation in persons with CNS dysfunction (e.g., stroke and TBI). He is also involved in the creation of artificially intelligent virtual human patients for clinical training and for creating online virtual human healthcare guides for breaking down barriers to care in psychological health and TBI.