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Veterans Day: Veterans more comfortable opening up to virtual therapists

11-10-17 Category: Mental Health, Trauma

Veterans Day: Veterans more comfortable opening up to virtual therapists  Life is never easy for veterans, especially immediately after returning from war. Although each of them tries to settle down in their own way, the horrific scenes from the war field tend to haunt them at all times. The continuous exposure and flashbacks to torturous sights make them victims of psychological ills like depression, stress, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or trauma.

The mental health of a veteran is the responsibility of the nation. The United States observes Veterans Day on November 11, which is a time to focus on their welfare by identifying the individuals affected by mental disorders and providing them an opportunity to access treatment.

Keeping this in mind, it is mandatory for each and every veteran to complete a written survey called the Post-Deployment Health Assessment (PDHA) that helps in gauging their psychological health. Based on the assessment, a veteran suffering from mental illnesses is identified and offered support.  

PDHA does not inspire confidence

The findings from the PDHA are added to the service members’ records. Fearing the exposure of the status of their mental health, veterans are not comfortable in sharing their inner feelings in the PDHA. This makes it fall short of the purpose for which it was initiated.

Experts feel that the PDHA could have served better if it was conducted anonymously. Veterans need somebody who can listen to their secrets and inner turmoil confidentially without passing any judgment. They need someone who can inspire trust and confidence.

Virtual therapists can help veterans talk openly

Working along these lines a recent study, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), found that veterans are more likely to talk about their symptoms of PTSD to a virtual interviewer. A virtual therapist would be an artificially intelligent 3D avatar, interacting from a television screen.

“People are very open to feeling connected to things that aren’t people,” said Gale Lucas, lead author and a psychologist at University of Southern California’s (USC) Institute for Creative Technologies. The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Robotics and AI in October 2017, extolled virtual interviewers as better performers, than human therapists, in helping veterans open up about their mental health.

Although people assume that anonymity and rapport do not go hand in hand, Lucas said that a virtual interviewer can provide both. The researchers tried the method with hundreds of subjects pairing them with Ellie, an embodied AI designed to engage test subjects in verbal interviews.

More veterans talked to Ellie, AI therapist

Lucas and her colleagues tried to find out if Ellie could help soldiers reveal their PTSD symptoms. For their study, they recruited soldiers who had recently returned from Afghanistan.

Ellie used machine vision to interpret the test subjects’ verbal and facial cues and respond supportively. It could offer sympathy and perform considerate gestures, like smiling, nodding or quietly uttering “mhm” when listening to a sensitive story. Psychologists term these kinds of sounds and gestures as backchannels.

The findings revealed that the respondents reported more PTSD symptoms in their interviews with Ellie than they did earlier on their official PDHA surveys. The veterans also divulged more to Ellie than on anonymous surveys.

This proved that such a virtual robot can be of much help to the military and can assist veterans to open up about their psychological problems. As they opened up without any fear of losing their career, chances of getting treatment increased considerably.

Dealing with trauma

People who undergo trauma or suffer from PTSD have a hard time maintaining relationships with family or friends. Trust, communication and problem-solving become a daunting task for them. However, with care and proper treatment they can overcome their problems and live effortlessly with others.

Sovereign Health is a leading behavioral health treatment provider in the United States that offers comprehensive trauma treatment programs to patients. If you have a loved one suffering from trauma, call our 24/7 helpline to know more about our residential trauma treatment centers. You can even chat online with our experts for immediate assistance.  

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