A desensitization program using a driving simulator to treat post-traumatic stress disorder following a motor vehicle collision: a case-study.

Author(s): Martin Lavallière, Sylvie Joly, Pierro Hirsch

Slidedeck Presentation Only (no paper submitted):

6B Lavalliere, Joly & Hirsch_A desensitization program using a driving simulator to treat post-traumatic stress disorder


Background: This study reports the case of a man, Mr. EF, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 2010 after he was involved in a motor vehicle collision (MVC). The collision occurred when he was driving at night on a two-lane undivided highway. A truck in the oncoming lane, driven by a drowsy driver, drifted across the center line and in order to avoid a head-on collision, Mr. EF steered his car abruptly into a ditch where it overturned. Following the crash, Mr. EF expressed severe anxiety and fear related to being hit by other vehicles.  Even as a passenger, he manifested anxiety and these symptoms were more present and severe at night in situations similar to the MVC he experienced. Mr. EF is highly motivated to resume his normal life by driving again. However, despite multiple attempts under the guidance of therapists, Mr. EF remains afflicted by debilitating anxiety and fear and has not been able to drive since then.

Aim: To help Mr. EF regain his psychological comfort as a driver by conducting a therapeutic treatment consisting of progressive exposures to simulator-based driver training scenarios aimed at reducing Mr. EF’s levels of anxiety and stress while he executes normal driving behaviours.

Methods: A driving-specific feedback program aimed at desensitizing driving fears was introduced to enable a cognitive reframing of the traumatic MVC event. The program will include cognitive-behavioural reframing strategies, mindfulness training and relaxation periods; all intended to ensure that Mr EF will be able to cope properly with different real world driving situations.

Results: An eight-session program has been implemented for now. The preliminary results will be presented. If the results of these initial sessions are positive, the program will be extended to twenty sessions.

Discussion/Conclusion: At the end of this simulator-based driver training and desensitization program, it is expected that Mr. EF will become more comfortable as a passenger in vehicles, and that he will also be capable of driving his own vehicle. A driving-simulator training program of this type represents a promising avenue for driver rehabilitation.