Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy for the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Methodological Review Using CONSORT Guidelines

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Abstract

Context

Virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) is an extension of traditional exposure therapy and has been used to treat a variety of anxiety disorders. VRET utilizes a computer-generated virtual environment to present fear-relevant stimuli. Recent studies have evaluated the use of VRET for treatment of PTSD; however, a systematic evaluation of the methodological quality of these studies has yet to be conducted.

Objectives

This review aims to (a) identify treatment outcome studies examining the use of VRET for the treatment of PTSD and (b) appraise the methodological quality of each study using the 2010 Consolidating Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) Statement and its 2008 extension for nonpharmacologic interventions.

Methods

Two independent assessors conducted a database search (PsycINFO, Medline, CINAHL, Google Scholar) of studies published between January 1990 and June 2013 that reported outcome data comparing VRET with another type of treatment or a control condition. Next, a CONSORT quality appraisal of each study was completed.

Results

The search yielded nine unique studies. The CONSORT appraisal revealed that the methodological quality of studies examining VRET as a treatment for PTSD was variable.

Conclusion

Although preliminary findings suggest some positive results for VRET as a form of exposure treatment for PTSD, additional research using well-specified randomization procedures, assessor blinding, and monitoring of treatment adherence is warranted. Movement toward greater standardization of treatment manuals, virtual environments, and equipment would further facilitate interpretation and consolidation of this literature.

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