Barbara Rothbaum

Women in STEM
Women in STEM
Barbara Rothbaum

Specialty: Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Major Contributions:

Expert in the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Author of over 200 scientific papers and chapters

Past president of the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS)

Co-founder of Virtually Better, Inc.

Image Courtesy of Emory University

About five percent of the US population has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at any given time and six percent will have it at some point in their lifetime. While it is mostly seen as a disease affecting war veterans it can manifest in those who have experienced motor vehicle accidents, rape, or natural disasters. Becoming an official diagnosis in 1980, PTSD hasn’t been clearly understood and effective treatments are still being developed. Dr. Barbara Rothbaum is a pioneer in the use of virtual reality exposure therapy for the treatment of various psychological disorders, specializing in research and treatment of patients with anxiety disorders, focusing primarily on PTSD.

The treatment that has shown the most evidence for efficacy is exposure therapy, a form of cognitive behavioral therapy. Exposure therapy helps people to confront the memory of traumatic events by going over it repeatedly until they can gain a sense of mastery over the memory. Their experience can never be undone, and these memories will always be bad, but it is the goal the therapy to help people move through them and be able to remember them without the associated pain.

In her role as a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and director of the Trauma and Anxiety Recovery Program at Emory University School of Medicine, Rothbaum has been on the forefront of using technology to enhance current exposure therapy techniques. By adding virtual reality, Rothbaum has found that as patients describe their traumatic experience to a therapist, who will then manipulate the virtual reality environment to match the memory, patients feel a sense of presence in the memory that wasn’t there previously.

Rothbaum has authored over 200 papers and chapters and published four books on the treatment of PTSD. She co-founded Virtually Better with the goal of creating virtual reality environments for the use in treatment of anxiety disorders.

It is Rothbaum’s hope that she can find a way to prevent chronic PTSD from developing after traumatic events occur. Working with patients right after they experience a trauma using the methods developed in exposure therapy, it is thought that consolidation of fear memory can be avoided hopefully stopping PTSD in its tracks.

Written by Angela Goad


Barbara Rothbaum PhD/ABPP

Emory Universtiy School of Medicine Profile: Barbara Rothbaum

PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (YouTube)

Using Virtual Reality as Therapy for PTSD

See Also:

Google Scholar: Barbara Rothbaum

Emory Healthcare Veterans Program

Virtually Better, LLC.