Treating Trauma with Tetris: PTSD Gets Into Shape with Spatial Games

A GoodTherapy.org News Summary

It’s a common condition portrayed in films and thrown around as a buzzword in popular media, but for those who suffer its symptoms, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is a serious ailment that can reach far beyond mood-altering periods to become a substantial negative element of day to day functioning. While a majority of cases are diagnosed in combat veterans and those who have been subjected to the hardship of war, roughly eight percent of Americans are afflicted by PTSD as a result of some traumatic event during the course of civilian life.

So for the over twenty five million Americans affected by PTSD, a recent study from the University of Oxford may transcend its novelty to present a viable and easy to perform option for easing symptoms. A common feature of the disorder is the experience of flashbacks; detailed to varying degrees, these visual interruptions pull traumatic events from the memory and subject the sufferer to lifelike reenactments of a moment or action. The Oxford research team has found that the specific way in which these flashbacks use the brain’s processing is visual-spatial, and that this processing can be diverted to a new and different task, preventing the offending scenes from emerging.

Researchers showed a test group a short video sequence depicting actual human death and trauma, an accepted PTSD analog, and observed half the group play a game of Tetris for ten minutes a half hour after the video showing, while the other half sat quietly without any activity. Progress was monitored via subject diaries for a week, and those who engaged in the Tetris games reported significantly less recall and flashbacks of the film than did the control group subjects who did not participate. By flooding the visual-spatial processing of the brain during critical periods following trauma, we may be able to use tools like Tetris to prevent debilitating disorders (and have a little fun at the same time!).

© Copyright 2009 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Lisa Marie

    Lisa Marie

    January 17th, 2009 at 6:42 AM

    As someone who suffers from PTSD, this absolutely makes sense. I work in a field that requires a lot of mathematics, so when I am involved in a task that requires problem solving, spatial reasoning, etc I can definitely see how that would help in preventing the recurrence of symptoms. It only makes sense that when you fire up another part of your brain, another lies more dormant.

  • Keith

    Keith

    January 19th, 2009 at 1:25 AM

    I dont know whether it really helps as my dad served in the Vietnam war as a doctor. He has never been able to get back to a successful medical career as whatever he does has memories haunting him. However, lately he has been involved with social work and that seems to be doing him a bit of good.

  • CarrieDawn

    CarrieDawn

    January 20th, 2009 at 3:36 AM

    It’s sad to see an individual go thru this. I am happy to hear that there’s something out there, even Tetris, than can help.

  • Peggy

    Peggy

    January 20th, 2009 at 3:41 AM

    I have been fortunate enough of not having to go thru this or deal with someone who has PTSD. I can only imagine how it impacts on one’s life. I think any kind of activity that keeps the person busy is a good thing in helping them get through this.

  • Katelyn

    Katelyn

    January 21st, 2009 at 3:04 AM

    This was an interesting article and Lisa Marie has a point. If we can somehow activate another part of our brain, by playing games, socializing, etc… Maybe this will help with PTSD.

  • Madison

    Madison

    January 21st, 2009 at 3:05 AM

    I never realized that so many Americans were affected by PTSD. That is a tremendous amount. I am glad to hear there is something out there that can help people who suffer from this.

  • Veterans Compensation Benefits

    Veterans Compensation Benefits

    January 26th, 2009 at 3:10 PM

    Amazing that something like tetris could help with something as serious as PTSD. Great article, very interesting. Thanks for posting!

  • Liza

    Liza

    January 27th, 2009 at 4:04 AM

    How odd- I never thought of Tetris as enough of a diversion to help someone with PTSD but looking back on the hours that I have spent playing this game and how you become aware of nothing but the game I see how it may could help those with this disorder. It is sad because I have only considered veterans as those who suffer from PTSD but upon reading this I had one of those moments where I realized that this probably affects more people than we even know. Rape and abuse victims, as well as other crime victims are probably subject to developing this and often are turned away for treatment becasue no one takes the time to discover what is really going on with them. I too am glad to hear that there is something fun that could actually help with their treatment and to get them back to the land of the living.

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