Virtual Worlds as Immersive Treatment Settings: The PTSD Sim

One of the advantages of virtual worlds is the ability to created simulated experiences that can help us learn something about experiences other than our own, as well as providing a an opportunity to help us make sense of our own experience. The  Virtual PTSD  (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) Sim in Second Life is an example of such a place. I recently went exploring there to check the out the “build.”

Welcome to the Virtual PTSD Experience

The experience starts when you transport into the Sim into a reception area in the Visitor Center. The first thing you see is information about how to reach someone if you are in crisis now. This welcome area also has an information desk (complete with pamphlets) staffed by “Ranger Jane” (a bot) who will answer questions that you ask in chat. In another part of the room, there is  an animated diorama that provides you with an overview of what happens in the simulation. This is important, as it will make the entire encounter more predictable and, therefore, less likely to trigger extreme PTSD symptoms while going through the simulation. There is also an option to transport to a Relaxation Room in the event that you start to feel too anxious. This “room” is actually a choice of several very different relaxation environments (e.g., the beach, outer space) so you can choose the one that fits your needs.

The Visitor Center has doors that lead out to the different parts of the Sim that are organized around learning about Causes of PTSD (Down Range), Self-Assessment, and Next Steps. It also includes several videos: one which gives an overview of what’s available on the island and another to show you how to use the HUD (gadget) that is part of the Sim experience. Unfortunately, was unable to get the videos to work with the viewer that I usually use (Imprudence), but the Second Life viewer worked fine.

Reviewing What’s Ahead: Animated Diorama of the Sim Experience

As you leave the welcome area, you walk into a peaceful natural setting where you are provided a description of the causes of PTSD and you are given a uniform to wear. The next step is to choose the level of intensity for the Causes simulation experience, a combat trauma: high, medium or low (choosing one of three doors). Allowing people this choice increases the control that a participant has and makes the whole experience much less threatening.

Nature Interlude: A bear fishes in the water nearby

Choose a High, Med, or Low Intensity Experience

I opted for the High Intensity experience (probably not a surprise to anyone who knows me) and waited the 6 minutes for the doors to open. As I waited I noticed that there was an option to skip the trauma exposure and jump to the airport part of the simulation–an example of the careful thought that went into creating this Sim. I took a seat in the Hummer that arrived and off we went. The Hummer takes you through a road in an Iraq village market only to encounter a suicide bomber along the way. The bombing kills several soldiers: another second or two more and it would have included your Hummer.

Heading Into the Market

Aftermath: As Seen from Outside the Hummer

The remainder of the Sim covers going to the airport to fly home, changing into a non-combat uniform, flying home on the plane, arriving at the airport, and then a range of post-simulation educational experiences, including a chance to learn some anxiety management skills and assess your own PTSD symptoms with a PTSD assessment instrument. Also included is a shopping mall experience where you learn about PTSD symptoms as you encounter potential triggers in the mall (e.g., an exotic marketplace shop) and test your knowledge, acquiring experience points. Finally, as one would hope, there is also information on  how to access treatment.

Overall, the Sim is well constructed: a great deal of thought went into created an experience that would leave vets feeling in control and provide them with many opportunities to learn in a safe environment.

To Find Out More About the Virtual PTSD Sim

Interested in checking out the Virtual PTSD Sim yourself? Set up a free account in Second Life and then transport to this SL-URL

Want to skip the Sim and just see some videos? I’ll embed two at the end of this post.

For more information about the organization that created this project, check out The National Center for Telehealth and Technology.

Other Interesting Virtual Immersion Learning Experiences

For other good uses of virtual worlds for simulations, check out  the Virtual Hallucinations Sim in Second Life (SL URL:  This YouTube video conveys some sense of the experience (the visuals, but not the voices you hear) providing a glimpse of what the world might be like to someone who is diagnosed with Schizophrenia.  Another good use of a simulated experience is shown by this video of being captured and taken to Guantamo Bay at the time the Iraq War started, a simulation that was created as part of a human rights education effort.

I think this is an exciting direction for education and treatment and would love to hear about any interesting simulations that you’ve encountered, or any good ideas you have for them, as well.

Virtual PTSD Sim Videos

Video Created by the Team that Made the Virtual PTSD Sim

(Overview of the Island Experience)

Video of the Sim Experience Created by a Second Life Resident, Zarrakan


Mike Langlois, LICSW found this great intro/overview of the Virtual PTSD Sim and step-by-step instructions for how to set up a Second Life account and avatar. The video seems to be the same one I linked above, but the overview and instructions are value added. Thanks Mike, and thanks for your mention of this post in your newsletter!

7 thoughts on “Virtual Worlds as Immersive Treatment Settings: The PTSD Sim

  1. Thanks so much for sharing your visit into the PTSD Sim in Second Life! You did it so nicely walking us through with your words and the illustrations 🙂 I also enjoyed the videos at the end.

    They added some additional pieces of info like how you can work your way up in terms of your mental health score and/or another earn points for learning relaxation techniques and other PTSD tools.

    What a great way to educate soldiers (and others) about PTSD symptoms and offer treatment – totally confidential and in a fun, game-like atmosphere.

    I will have to check out one of these days a virtual SIM myself!

    Thanks again for this most informative and fascinating post!



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  4. Thanks for sharing the additional content from the videos, Dorlee!

    When I decided to write a post on this Sim I didn’t realize it was such an elaborate creation–all the game elements they integrated were really interesting, although I couldn’t get them to run on my viewer, so I didn’t get as strong a sense for how those would work. You can use a wide range of viewers in Second Life…it would have been good if they had tested their build across several of the more popular viewers.


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