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Helping a Teen Boy Heal from Childhood Trauma with Virtual Reality

This story was selected as a winner during our 2018 summer story contest. It was submitted by Alicia Armstrong, MA, LMFT, Clinical Manager at KVC Prairie Ridge Hospital.

I want to tell you the story of a young man that we helped recently at KVC Prairie Ridge Hospital, our children’s psychiatric hospital in Kansas City, Kansas. He is a 16-year old boy who I’ll call Stephen for confidentiality purposes. I had the privilege of being Stephen’s therapist while he was at the hospital. As a result of the trauma he had experienced when he was younger, he struggled to regulate his emotions and was often physically aggressive toward others. He needed hospital and residential treatment a few times. When he first arrived at our hospital for treatment, he was aggressive toward staff and peers. At times, he said he felt hopeless about his future. Stephen shared that he felt he was just going to end up in prison when he was older.

Psychiatric Treatment at KVC Hospitals

Once Stephen was admitted to the hospital, he received psychological testing and began treatment, which included being assessed by a psychiatrist every day. He was prescribed the right medicines that, along with individual and group therapy, staff mentorship, and reconnecting him with his paternal biological family, helped him better manage his emotions and feel better about his life.

Virtual Reality at KVC Hospitals

Lions virtual reality KVC Hospitals children's psychiatric hospitalsAt KVC Hospitals, we use virtual reality and other experiential learning methods in therapy sessions. Virtual reality was a very important piece of Stephen’s treatment. He had seen therapists for several years at different mental health centers, but never really felt like therapy “helped.” He said it was hard for him to make connections with therapists. We started to use virtual reality in our sessions. Now, this young boy who had never left the state of Kansas was suddenly able to go anywhere in the world. He had always wanted to visit Africa and with virtual reality, we were able to take him there. During his “trip” to Africa, he enjoyed walking alongside cheetahs and lions.

After sharing about his dreams of Africa, Stephen felt comfortable about sharing about more of his “real life” experiences. Using Google Earth in virtual reality, Stephen took me to his home and was able to open up about the childhood adversity and trauma he had experienced.

Hope for a Bright Future

After a few more virtual reality sessions, Stephen wanted to talk about his future. We started exploring university campuses in virtual reality, and then some of the KVC Hospitals staff eventually took Stephen to local universities in person so he could see them in real life. He started to explore ideas of what he would want to study in school and how he could be a helpful member of society. He said he wanted to be a veterinarian so that he could help animals who really needed it. Stephen started to see new possibilities for his life that he used to think were completely out of his reach. He no longer believed he was destined to end up in prison. He had a future – and it was a bright one.

Becoming a Leader and Helping Others

Stephen’s bright future continued after he left the hospital. He gained new family supports and transitioned to an independent living home with other boys his age where he quickly took on a leadership role. He even began to teach his peers about brain science and emotion regulation – things he had learned about at our hospital. He is doing remarkably well and all the staff at KVC Prairie Ridge Hospital are so proud of him and all he was able to accomplish.

If you’re interested in working somewhere that encourages you to use creative, cutting-edge treatment to help children heal, KVC is the place for you! View open positions with KVC Hospitals at www.kvc.org/careers. 

Join the KVC Health Systems team at www.kvc.org/careers