Combining Smell, Sites and Sounds to Overcome PTSD

Smells from exotic spices to rotting, uncollected garbage will be used to help war veterans overcome symptoms related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Researchers at the University of Central Florida in Orlando are studying “exposure therapy.” And, they will use the smells associated with combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Coalition forces alongside Afghan commandos kick down a door during an air assault mission in the Paktika province of Afghanistan, Aug. 14, 2009. Photo credit: Spc. Matthew Freire, Joint Combat Camera Afghanistan.

The “exposure” therapy uses virtual sites, sounds and real smells of traumatic events to help teach people to face their fears. Dr. Deborah Beidel, a UCF psychology professor, is leading the study that also includes researchers from the University of South Carolina.

Researchers have known for a long time that smell is tied to memories and the hope is that the smells of war will help veterans deal with their anxiety and other symptoms of PTSD. The smells coupled with video game simulations will be used to duplicate the war veterans traumatic experience.

The study is recruiting 120 veterans with PTSD who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. The study will be conducted at two locations UCF and the Medical University of South Carolina. The first five weeks veterans will use the video simulations including smells. Then the groups will be split. Half will receive 12 weeks of group therapy aimed at solving social and emotional problems. The other half will receive the standard mental health treatment offered by the VA and clinics. The study is being funded by the U.S. Army. Treatment is free.

Veterans of any military branch, as well as National Guard and Reserve members, who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan are eligible. For more information on UCF’s portion of the study, go to or call 407-823-1668.

A link to UCF article about the project is here.

A link to the full Orlando Sentinel article is here.

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