War, Trauma, and Technologies of the Self: The Making of Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy

Marisa Brandt
UC San Diego

Since the mid-1990s, psychotherapists have proposed using virtual reality to enhance their practice by immersing patients in computer-generated environments designed to provide therapeutic experiences. This project applies training in science and technology studies and theories of mediated communication to analyze virtual technologies as treatment interventions for combat-related post-traumatic stress. By studying both designers and clinicians, this analysis shows how the history of VR in mental health care and history of concepts of the psychologically traumatic consequences of war have converged in the contemporary moment in order to produce this particular form of therapeutic mediation as an intervention into subjectivity. As the first large clinical trial of VR therapy began in April 2010, this project provides historical, ethnographic, and critical media studies insight into a relatively field with the potential to affect how many people receive mental health care and the kind of care they expect.