The largest study yet undertaken by the Department of Defense shows a form of therapy called Prolonged Exposure is the best treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in military personnel returning from war zones, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
"This is exposing individuals to their natural environment, things that are either trauma triggers, or things that they feel are dangerous," said Dr. Alan Peterson, who heads the Strong Star Consortium, which is a group of medical schools and medical researchers funded by the DoD with the goal of finding the most efficient method of treating PTSD. The study was done on 370 active duty service members who were seeking treatment for PTSD at Fort Hood, Texas.
Dr. Peterson is a professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, which is one of the participating institutions in the Strong Star Consortium.
Peterson says his research shows attempts to help PTSD patients by working with them to downplay their memories of combat are not going to work.
"They will never forget these events," he said. "They are the most powerful memories they will ever have."
He says using Prolonged Exposure therapy, the patients were training, over courses lasting from two weeks to eight weeks, to learn that those events are just memories, and realize that it is part of a life they have left behind.
Patients are accompanied on their normal daily activities and are trained to realize that the constant vigilance of danger that their brains were trained to adapt for self preservation in a combat zone can be 'un-trained.'
"It is unlikely that a trash bag on the side of the road is going to blow up, it is unlikely they are going to be attacked in a Walmart or in a grocery store," Peterson said.
Dr. Edna Foa of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, which is also part of Strong Star, and who developed Prolonged Exposure therapy, says the research shows it is successful not just in allowing the patient to get over the memories that cause PTSD, but to maintain their gains over time.
"Loss of PTSD diagnosis was similar among the three groups, with rates at the end of treatment at 40 to 49%," she said.
Peterson says new research is underway to determine how best to treat the half of service members who did not respond to Prolonged Exposure.
"The idea is that the therapy might be used at specialized treatment centers where service members and veterans could go for three weeks of intensive treatment with excellent hope for recovery," he said. He said the study meets the DoD guidelines of determining the best treatments for combat PTSD, as well as the best ways of delivering those treatments.
"We went to help more of our nation's war fighters recover from their psychological wounds and maintain to resume full, productive lives."
The research was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.