Prescribed Reality

Trigger Warning: Discussion of wartime trauma

This article is a good bridge between our discussion this week and my own project as pertains to the treatment of PTSD with altered or repressed realities.  Chris Merkle, a veteran who served seven tours was struggling with blacked out memories of wartime trauma’s before being exposed to virtual reality therapy.  Through the therapy Merkle was able to transport himself to the sites of his trauma and both remember and confront it.  He described the experience as “this evil, for lack of a better word for it, was slipping out”.

The science behind virtual reality therapy comes from advancements in technology which allow for the literal media production of memories and is a branch of the therapeutic technique of prolonged exposure.  Prolonged exposure is effective in that it requires the patient to relive, confront, and survive their trauma or phobia in order to move past or with it in their day to day lives.  Virtual reality therapy is similarly focused on the treatment of PTSD, anxiety, and phobias.  The patient describes these while they wear a headset and watch a screen that is being controlled and modified by a psychiatrist.  Much like the use of psychedelics these sessions are described as “unlocked doors” in that they allow for one to revisit a mentally blocked place by erasing that barrier and showing the patient that they can survive whatever phobia or trauma lay behind.  Merkle discusses this as a child’s confrontation of the monster in the closet.

I have not yet found a source that describes psychedelic therapy as prolonged exposure but its relation and comparison to virtual reality is undeniable both in what it treats and its methodology.  Psychedelic treatment also requires a patient to wear a headset and close their eyes which effectively becomes a screen for their mind to project on.   It will be interesting to see where these fields continue to and how they intertwine as one is organic and the other technological but both with in altered states of reality. 


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