New virtual reality program helps victims of sexual assault

- A new virtual reality system is being used to help sexual assault victims cope after they've been attacked. Our Morgan Frances looked into how this works. 

Imagine: You're in a bar you notice a kind of creepy guy standing in the corner. A while later, you leave…he follows.

He gets closer to you. You're scared, then, in an instant, you take off your virtual reality glasses to see your therapist.

Doctor Stephan Bouchard, a professor at the University of Quebec in Outaouais is using virtual reality to help sexual assault victims.

“All of these situations, our goal as psychotherapists, is to help them face what they're afraid of and go on a successful route where they can actually live their daily life,” Bouchard. 

Bouchard says by exposing his patients to the very scenario which terrifies them, or possibly even causes flashbacks, they can start to overcome their traumatic experience.

“In our specific environment, if the patient wants it, we can go, in collaboration with the patient, to go as far as actually going through the actual rape,” he said. 

The virtual reality program, which is only meant for health care professionals who can work with a victim, is raising some eyebrows.

“Desensitization's not the same thing as healing. it just means you're less sensitized to something,” said Kristen Litvak, an outpatient clinical manager for Phoenix Counseling Center in Gastonia. 

She says they use various forms of treatment for victims of traumatic experiences, virtual reality isn't one of them, and she's confident it never will be.

“It's such an intensely painful disorder to deal with just on a daily as it is, I think that we really need to be protective of our clients and try to basically do no harm,” Litvak said. 

Many question the doctor's technique, even saying it could re-victimize the patient.

“The point is to not traumatize people. The point is to help them, with the help of a therapist, to go through their own souvenirs of these events,” Bouchard said. 

He says he's studied 30-40 victims of rape who have used the virtual reality program with success so far.

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