The UCF RESTORES Clinic was recently awarded $1 million from the U.S. Army to continue development of its own virtual-reality software to treat active-duty service members, military veterans and first responders who experience post-traumatic stress disorder.

“This funding will allow us to develop new tools to further improve the treatment outcome for PTSD,” said Deborah Beidel, director of the clinic. “To provide the highest level of care – based on the most rigorous science – is not just our goal, but our commitment to everyone whose life has been changed by trauma.”

More than 750 service members, veterans, first responders, survivors of sexual assault and mass shootings have been treated at the clinic. The clinic uses virtual reality to deliver treatment through a technique known as exposure therapy to simulate a patient’s traumatic experience and help reduce the anxiety a patient associates with the experience.

After PTSD treatments, 66 percent of military personnel and 76 percent of civilians no longer meet the diagnostic criteria for continuing treatment, a success rate that is higher than more conventional therapies.

The program has been awarded more than $10 million in grants the past few years.

The clinic was established in 2010 after the Department of Defense awarded UCF a $5 million grant. The program has been awarded more than $10 million in grants the past few years.

“Those who put their lives on the line to protect our country expect their government to be as resilient in the search for new and innovative ways to help them in their recovery,” says U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, who recognized the U.S. Army for making “meaningful investments in our community that will allow service members, veterans and first responders to receive cutting-edge treatment that will assist them in their road to recovery.”

The clinic’s PTSD treatment includes a three-week program combining virtual reality and group therapy sessions on guilt, anger, resocialization, insomnia and other components. The virtual-reality sessions include videos of traumatic situations such as war along with sounds of gunfire and explosions and smells of smoke and gunfire. The idea is that exposing patients to the traumatic experiences will help reduce their stress about them.

Beidel received her Ph.D. and M.S. in psychology and M.Ed. in rehabilitation counseling from the University of Pittsburgh and her B.A. in psychology from Pennsylvania State University. She has been with UCF since 2007.