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Virtual training helps veterans with PTSD find jobs

3 July 2015

Virtual training helps veterans with PTSD find jobs

The unemployment rate among veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and individuals with mental illness is quite high, even though many want to work. The job interview, for example, poses particularly difficult problems for those suffering mental illness issues.

A new Northwestern Medicine study, however, has shown how a training programme with a virtual human helped PTSD and mental illness sufferers build their job interview skills and secure significantly more job offers. The software for the initiative is based on what the FBI use to train agents.

Participants in the study were able to practise repeatedly with Molly Porter, a virtual human resources staff member. Using Molly’s voice recognition to record their answers, an in-programme job coach gives immediate on-screen feedback as to whether their responses helped or hurt their rapport with Molly. As well as this, the interviews got tougher as they progressed.

Participants in the study felt significant benefits from taking part, as they were nine times more likely to get job offers in a six-month follow-up after training than those suffering from the same ailments who didn’t participate in the programme.

Matthew J Smith, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said: “Veterans with PTSD and people with mental illness such as bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia are prone to anxiety, which can escalate during stressful social encounters such as the job interview. The training was a big confidence builder for them.”

The study involved 70 individuals with severe mental illness or US military veterans who had been diagnosed with PTSD or a similar disorder. When they persisted with the programme and achieved a mark of 90% or more, Molly would inform them that “You’ve got the job!”

The commercially available training from SIMmersion LLC is computer-based and can be accessed over the Internet at or installed from a DVD. “It fills an important need,” Smith said. “Evidence-based employment services are not widely available to individuals with severe mental illness at a national level.”

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