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Bravemind: Using Virtual Reality to Treat PTSD

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Bravemind demonstrates how virtual reality can transform mental health treatments through its innovative PTSD exposure therapy system.

Value Creation:

20% of the U.S. population has a diagnosable mental disorder, which costs the U.S. $467 billion in lost productivity and medical expenses. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects 7.7 million people in the U.S., and one in three people who suffer a traumatic event will have PTSD. The symptoms gravely affect people’s lives from insomnia, to personality changes. There have been several forms of treatment for PTSD including medication and psychotherapy but recovery is challenging and time-consuming. Exposure theory has emerged as a leader in effective treatment. This involves repeatedly exposing patients to their traumatic event in a controlled environment until triggers of the event no longer lead to anxiety. Research clinics have been experimenting using virtual reality as a method of exposure therapy since 1997. It is believed that VR helps PTSD patients get better, faster than simply describing the trauma because it adds a sensory element. In addition, relapses are expected to be happen less often and it is also thought to help patients who have been unresponsive to other forms of treatment.

As a psychologist described, “Exposure therapy is an ideal match with VR. You can place people in provocative environments and systematically control the stimulus presentation. In some sense, it’s the perfect application because we can take evidence-based treatments and use it as a tool to amplify the effect of the treatment.”

Value Capture & Business Model:

Dr. Albert Rizzo is a research professor at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technology (ICT). ICT is the same facility whose research led to the creation of Oculus Rift, and Dr. Rizzo is the institute’s head of medical virtual reality. He has been experimenting with the use of virtual reality as a method of exposure therapy since the 1990s. His research institute has combined academics, military resources and Hollywood visual effects to create Bravemind, a PTSD treatment system. The Bravemind system is completely immersive and as personalized as possible to match the patient’s trauma. There are 14 levels, controlled by a clinician to ease patients into the process.

See the technology at work in the video below:

Dr. Rizzo and ICT partnered with the company, Virtually Better, Inc (VBI) to distribute their product. VBI develops and sells VR products and software designed for applications in behavioral healthcare such as treatments for phobias, substance abuse disorders and pain management. The Bravemind system is meant to be purchased by large institutions and is sold through an enterprise sales model. For example, VBI sold two copies of the Bravemind software to the Canadian government in 2014 for $17,000 each. The software is currently used in over 50 sites including university clinics and military and VA hospitals.

Opportunities for Growth:

Previously, using VR PTSD treatments have been limited by having access to special devices, preventing widespread use by the public. In 2016 the accessibility issue started to change with the introduction of VR headsets like HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Gear VR. The question now is whether Bravemind, as the incumbent in the category, will democratize access to its technology. Bravemind has utilized university resources as well as military funding to conduct rigorous studies to demonstrate efficacy. This has helped the company stay competitive against new, private entrants who could utilize the easier availability of VR hardware to compete in this marketplace, but lack clinical data proving their techniques. However, this hasn’t prevented several startups from entering the space with their own mental health app. Bravemind needs to stay on top of competitors by considering how they can extend their technology to make it available to the masses.

Another opportunity for growth is extending the technology into other mental health disorders. Since they have a competitive advantage of academic and clinical expertise combined with top-of-the-line virtual reality technology, Bravemind can extend their product line to treat everything from phobias to ADD to depression. They can package their services as clinics typically treat many types of mental health issues, and can also obtain efficiencies in training clinicians.


1 thought on “Bravemind: Using Virtual Reality to Treat PTSD

  1. Great post – this is really interesting and potentially a great application for VR for a serious problem. I’m curious what the bar to clear is for demonstrating, for lack of a better word, clinical efficacy? How quickly can this be brought to market and how do you navigate both the medical regulation system and make sure that it actually works? One concern I might have is that it seems logical but could end up exacerbating PTSD for some patients – but I’m no expert!

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