Prolonged exposure and virtual reality-enhanced imaginal exposure for PTSD following a terrorist bulldozer attack: A case study

Sara A. Freedman, Hunter G. Hoffman, Azucena Garcia-Palacios, Patrice L. Weiss, Sara Avitzour, Naomi Josman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this case study, virtual reality was used to augment imaginal exposure in a protocol based on prolonged exposure. A 29-year-old male patient developed posttraumatic stress disorder after surviving a deadly terrorist bulldozer attack on two civilian buses and several cars in Jerusalem; the traumas witnessed by the survivor included a decapitation. The crowded bus in which the patient was riding was pushed over onto its side by the terrorist, injuring, trapping, and terrifying the passengers and causing gasoline to leak. Guided by his therapist, the patient entered an immersive computer-generated virtual world to go "back" to the scene of the traumatic event to help him gain access to his memories of the event, process and reduce the intensity of the emotions (fear/anger) associated with his pathological memories, and change unhealthy thought patterns. Traumatic memories of childhood abuse and traumatic memories of the bulldozer terrorist attack were treated using imaginal exposure while the patient was in the virtual environment BusWorld. The patient showed large posttreatment reductions in PTSD symptoms, and his Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS) scores dropped from 79 pretreatment to zero immediately posttreatment, and CAPS was still at zero 6 months later. Although case studies are inconclusive by nature, these encouraging preliminary results suggest that further exploration of the use of virtual reality during modified prolonged exposure for PTSD is warranted. As terrorist attacks increase in frequency and severity worldwide, research is needed on how to minimize the psychological consequences of terrorism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-101
Number of pages7
JournalCyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Social Psychology
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Applied Psychology
  • Computer Science Applications


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