According to the U.S. Department of Veterans, an estimated 31 percent of Vietnam War veterans, 10 percent of Gulf War veterans, 11 percent of Afghanistan War veterans and 20 percent of Iraq War veterans are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Furthermore, the Department of Health and Human Services has reported that 31 to 84 percent of abused women exhibit PTSD symptoms. With such a prevalent problem impacting modern-day populations, these groups need powerful solutions.
Virtual reality and PTSD
One of the most notable advancements in PTSD treatment has been in virtual simulation:
- Following the 9/11 attacks on the United States, JoAnn Difede, Ph.D., of Cornell University led a pioneering study that evaluated the efficiency of virtual reality (VR) on participants who were extensively exposed to the event. Nine out of 10 patients showed significant clinical benefit, dropping from severe to mild on the clinician-administered PTSD scale (CAPS).
- In 2007, Difede collaborated with Albert A. Rizzo, Ph.D., and a number of other researchers to examine the effects of a collection of simulated scenarios known as “Virtual Iraq” on returning war veterans. Along with some successful case studies, tests of a new program called “Bravemind” improved symptoms in 16 of 20 military members with an average of eight years in active service.
- Robert McLay, M.D., and his team studied virtual PTSD treatment on mood and cognition via self-report and an emotional test based on reaction time. The experts discovered marked reductions in PTSD and anxiety severity as well as improvements in emotional measurements.
Proven PTSD treatment techniques
In addition to innovation, the field of PTSD research has also reviewed what strategies are effective. Utilizing a new grading system in 2008, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies updated its practice guidelines and published a list of the most highly rated evidence-based techniques for PTSD. The system was created with the goal of improving recovery rates and helping psychologists fit treatment that has been shown to work to both their own expertise and their patient’s preferences. Methods that earned an “A” rating included:
- Prolonged exposure therapy: The therapist guides the patient through traumatic memories in a gradual, controlled and repetitive manner until the he or she can evaluate the experiences realistically and return to a normal routine.
- Cognitive processing therapy: Patients are still exposed to stress-inducing stimuli, but a greater emphasis is made on forming cognitive strategies to help people alter their false beliefs around an event.
- Stress inoculation training: Patients are taught how to manage and reduce symptoms of anxiety, such as through breathing, muscle relaxation and positive self-talk.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EDMR): Patients are instructed to make eye movements or follow hand taps while simultaneously recalling traumatic events.
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors: Paroxetine (Paxil) and sertaline (Zoloft) have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in PTSD. The effects of medication have been shown to boost when used in conjunction with therapy.
From war and natural disasters to abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder severely affects people of various circumstances. Although all of these situations are tragic, there have been great strides in regards to understanding and addressing the illness in recent years. If you or a loved one struggles with serious trauma, contact Sovereign Health of California to receive innovative and effective treatments that will meet your individual needs.
Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer