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The Spartans called it The Trembler; recent history has seen it termed shell shock, combat fatigue, soldier’s heart, and Vietnam Syndrome. Whatever the name, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has always been with us. With 20 percent of the Veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq exhibiting PTSD symptoms, the United States military has a strong interest in combating the condition. Navy psychiatrist Robert N. McLay has been at the forefront of these efforts. This is his story of using virtual reality to ...
The Spartans called it The Trembler; recent history has seen it termed shell shock, combat fatigue, soldier’s heart, and Vietnam Syndrome. Whatever the name, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has always been with us. With 20 percent of the Veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq exhibiting PTSD symptoms, the United States military has a strong interest in combating the condition. Navy psychiatrist Robert N. McLay has been at the forefront of these efforts. This is his story of using virtual reality to treat Service Members and Veterans with PTSD.
As a practicing psychiatrist who works with Veterans and civilians coping with PTSD, McLay had known for years before the September 11, 2001, attacks that effective treatments for the condition were elusive. When active duty called, he met the challenge, becoming the primary investigator on PTSD treatment projects that had Service Members face the ghosts of war in a computer simulator. After using this new form of exposure therapy on the home front, McLay and his team believed they had found a promising way to work with warriors broken by combat, so in 2008 they took it to the front line in Fallujah, Iraq, with the First Marine Expeditionary Force.
Several years into the project, McLay recounts openly and with bleak honesty the successes, failures, and limits of virtual reality treatment for PTSD. Filled with poignant firsthand accounts of war and its psychological aftermath, At War with PTSD explains the difficulties of using this specialized technology in the field and discusses such challenges as helping people who refuse to believe in PTSD, including those diagnosed with it. So far, the virtual reality program shows more promise than traditional therapies. And although McLay remains unsure why or how, his experiences hold out hope for those suffering from this devastating disorder.
— Chris R. Brewin
Chapter 1 Why This Book Was Written 3
Chapter 2 What Is PTSD Anyway? Looking at the Problem before Iraq 9
Chapter 3 Every War Is Different, Every War Is the Same 21
Chapter 4 Mind and Brain 31
Chapter 5 The Forgotten War 41
Chapter 6 Treatment and Cure 49
Chapter 7 I Don't Believe in That Stuff: Arguments against the Existence of PTSD 61
Chapter 8 Some Birthday: Attempts to Prevent PTSD 71
Chapter 9 Iraq in Digital 81
Chapter 10 Women at War 91
Chapter 11 Memorial Day in Camp Fallujah 99
Chapter 12 It Just Might Work 109
Chapter 13 The State of the Science 125
Chapter 14 Therapy in Foxholes 139
Chapter 15 The War at Home 153
Chapter 16 Virtual Reality Faces the Real Thing 163
Chapter 17 Different Roads Home 175
Chapter 18 A Kind of Peace: What We Learned and What We Have Left to Accomplish 195
Posted April 9, 2012
No matter what your feelings are about war, this is a book that everyone should read. When faced with the reality of people who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, the process of healing is something that all humans should take part in.
This book doesn't read like a dry textbook. It has the intimate feel of journal entries, narrated in the first-person voice of a man who cares deeply about his patients. The story is both fascinating and informative, giving us an insider's look into one of the leading technologies used for dealing with this type of mental sickness. And let's face it. Virtual reality is just so dang cool. While you learn so much about it, you don't feel like you're falling asleep during an academic lecture. It's still a story, and it's such a good one. It's intimate, honest, informative, and thought-provoking. It reminds you that people suffer everyday in ways that we don't even know about or can't even begin to understand.
Or we can begin to understand by reading this book.
The author speaks with clarity and sensitivity to all readers, illustrating the journeys that each of his patients go through as they struggle with a past that haunts them. Through these stories, and through the encounters with various experts, doctors, and colleagues in his field, Dr. McLay ultimately illustrates his own journey: the search for a cure, and a message of hope. He even brings Neil Gaiman's Sandman series into it (trust me, it's relevant), one of his favorite comic book stories, and the birth of his son. Like I said, he gets personal in ways that is just so touching.
The best reads are ones that not just inform us and entertain us, but that CHANGE us. Read this book. You'll be glad that you did. You'll be better for it.