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Real Pain Dulled In Virtual Worlds 237

26199 writes "The BBC is reporting on a novel use of Virtual Reality: as a distraction for burn victims who suffer excruciating pain during daily dressing changes. What's most interesting is that it actually works. Another use of VR discussed is in the treatment of patients suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; memories can be relived until they are accepted."
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Real Pain Dulled In Virtual Worlds

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  • Amazing... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Vthornheart ( 745224 ) on Tuesday February 24, 2004 @03:36AM (#8371301)
    This could present some fascinating implications for medicine... Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is often one of the more difficult psychological disorders to treat, and is pretty much tops in the category of "anxiety-related" disorders. It would be a wonderful thing if it actually is useful in treatment.
  • Safe? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CelticWhisper ( 601755 ) <celticwhisper@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Tuesday February 24, 2004 @03:37AM (#8371302)
    Call me a skeptic, but it seems like there's still a lot of room for potential damage from this. PTSD patients reliving memories until they're accepted? Doesn't that seem a little like forced traumatic recollection? I mean...yes, I'm sure it would have some desensitizing factor, but is that really a good thing? I don't necessarily know that I'd be jumping to sign up...
  • by laymil ( 14940 ) <> on Tuesday February 24, 2004 @03:38AM (#8371308) Homepage
    So what happens when they come to rely on these techniques - people develop addictions to VR, just like they develop addictions to painkillers?

    Sounds scary to me. Picture a person who can't live in the outside world because they have developed a psychological disorder based on the fact that the outside world only gives them pain.

    Or the Slashdot reader who wants to experience VR so badly that he lights himself on fire...
    that last one is definitely more likely, isn't it?
  • Re:Safe? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by farquharsoncraig ( 711336 ) <> on Tuesday February 24, 2004 @03:44AM (#8371331) Journal
    I mean...yes, I'm sure it would have some desensitizing factor, but is that really a good thing?
    It's not the desensitizing factor, but rather the acceptance/understand factor. It would be a dissapointing tragedy of the worst kind indeed were you not able to, over the course of your life, eventually overcome and have sovereign dominion over your own body and mind.
  • Re:Safe? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by chazwurth ( 664949 ) <<ude.hcimu> <ta> <trautsdc>> on Tuesday February 24, 2004 @03:45AM (#8371336)
    I guess that depends what you mean by 'work.' I personally don't like the idea of getting over an emotional trauma by 'desensitizing' myself to it, as the article seems to suggest. Maybe I'm being sentimental, but it seems to me that what allows us to grow from painful experiences is having to come to terms with them, not getting desensitized.

    Physical pain (like that of the burn victims) is one thing; emotional pain is something else entirely.
  • Both sides shown (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Mikmorg ( 624030 ) on Tuesday February 24, 2004 @03:48AM (#8371346) Homepage

    Just remember, as with all emergant technologies, there are ups and downs, depending at who's disposal the technology is used. This could be, and sounds like it is, helpful towards medical purposes, and as others have mentioned, sure it could have problems with making a person desensitized.

    I say, give it time, take it slowly, and just hope for the best.

    Speaking of downsides, I can't imagine what the government is thinking about doing with this sort of stuff :P

  • Hmmm ... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rholliday ( 754515 ) on Tuesday February 24, 2004 @03:48AM (#8371347) Homepage Journal
    Now, I wonder how interactive these VR sessions are. Could the burn patients injure themselves by getting too into it? How "real" are these memories for the PTS patients? Will they fell like observers, or participants?
  • by Vthornheart ( 745224 ) on Tuesday February 24, 2004 @03:53AM (#8371364)
    That also poses a point about the great benefits for Burn Victims... I've been focusing on the PTSD part of it a bit too much...

    Finding a way to distract patients from pain is a far greater solution than medication. No side effects, no expensive or addictive substances to use (well, those who really like MMORPGs would disagree with my "addictive" statement, but...), and in general would be preferred over medication.

    I mean, this daily dressing routine... it takes only a fraction of the day. Giving them morphine for it then ruins the majority of their day, as they spend it in a near-lifeless stupor. And without anything, those few minutes of the day would no doubt be torturous...

  • Distraction (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ChimpyMonkey ( 748966 ) * <> on Tuesday February 24, 2004 @03:54AM (#8371367) is this any different from when you were a child, your mother distracting you from injuries with a lollie/toy? I know it used to work on me, and it sure works on my girls. It seems a bit of a reach to claim this is anything new.
  • by jdifool ( 678774 ) on Tuesday February 24, 2004 @04:37AM (#8371489) Homepage Journal
    Try to light yourself on fire, and you then will see that even the strongest dependance to any kind of medicine will seem heavenly good compared to your fucking pain.

    Those people just don't wonder. They want it.

    Your reasonment is the one from a safe and non-burnt person.
    You have *no* idea how these people suffer.

    No offense to you, BTW.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 24, 2004 @04:40AM (#8371499)
    Lucid Dreams would be better than VR, and more realistic.

    These are dreams where you are aware that you are dreaming, so one of the things you can do with them is this 'therapy' mentioned in this story. Even Dr Laberge mentioned a similar therapy.

    See [] for further information.
  • Pain vs. pain (Score:3, Insightful)

    by achurch ( 201270 ) on Tuesday February 24, 2004 @08:15AM (#8372092) Homepage

    But I also suspect that the main reason that we see physical and emotional pain as being different is that we see emotional pain as uniquely human, something that separates us from "the animals".

    I can't speak for anyone else, but I always saw it as the difference between a point source (physical pain) and lack thereof (emotional pain). I agree some people may take the human/animal point of view, but I wouldn't go so far as saying that physical and emotional pain are "the same". To put it in /. terms, Windows and Linux are both "produced" by the same hardware, and have the same general purpose--but I don't think anyone would claim they're the same thing!

    As far as souls go, I'm reserving judgement for now--ask me again when you've got a human backup system working. ;)

  • by Tsu Dho Nimh ( 663417 ) <> on Tuesday February 24, 2004 @10:19AM (#8372892)
    "I personally don't like the idea of getting over an emotional trauma by 'desensitizing' myself to it, as the article seems to suggest. "

    The term "desensitized" has a specific meaning in psychiatry and psychology: it does not mean "callous" or "indifferent". It means that a certain stimulus no longer creates as strong an emotional reaction as it once did. And for PTSD and phobias, those emotions are so strong and incapacitating (they replay at the original intensity or even higher, and with the added fear of another attack or flashback) that the patient is unable to come to terms with them until they are desensitized.

  • Re:Safe? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tsu Dho Nimh ( 663417 ) <> on Tuesday February 24, 2004 @10:27AM (#8372951)
    "What helps is a private talk with a friend or mom, lot of sleep and active program. I can't see how virtual reality videogame-like setting can do any good for PTSD." PThen you've never really had PTSD ... by definition, it's something that time, supportive friends and activity can't help you deal with in a few months. It's not the presence of bad memories and flashbacks, it's their continued and incapacitating existence screwing up your life months later.
  • Re:Safe? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by chazwurth ( 664949 ) <<ude.hcimu> <ta> <trautsdc>> on Tuesday February 24, 2004 @11:45AM (#8373784)
    I have to disagree. I'm pretty sure the reason I see physical and emotional pain as being different is because they don't feel anything alike one another; they're so dissimilar from a phenomenological perspective as to be almost incomparable. The only reason I can see to call them both 'pain' is because they are generally both unpleasant. Thus I think that as we move into the future, and dualisms are, as you put it, found to have less and less justification -- not that they've had any for the last few hundred years -- my view of physicality vs. emotion will change not at all. Learning about how the brain constructs pain is academic. Feeling pain is not, and I'm not going to talk about two distinctly (experientially) different feelings the same way regardless of what the brain is doing. This is because I'm not doing science when I'm worrying about my feelings, and there's no reason I should be.

    Don't get me wrong -- I'm not a dualist from a metaphysical perspective. But we simply don't experience what we call 'physical' and 'mental' events the same way, and that lends a hell of a lot more than judeo-christian mumbo jumbo to the list of dualist arguments. It also means that behaviorist and other reductionist arguments are extremely unsatisfying where talk about feelings is concerned -- yeah, it's just great that their philosophical agenda is so pure and clean and right, but they're a million miles away from anything that anyone actually feels.
  • Re:Safe? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jad LaFields ( 607990 ) on Tuesday February 24, 2004 @01:19PM (#8374866)
    Well, I think the idea is that you don't have post-traumatic stress syndrome because you aren't paralyzed and completely overcome every time you walk by ground zero. People with this syndrome don't need the memories necessarily to "go away", just not be incapacitating.


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