The U.S. Department of Defense is expanding the use of a therapy found effective in treating post-traumatic stress disorder following the Jan. 23 release of a groundbreaking study conducted among Fort Hood soldiers.
According to findings from a study conducted by researchers with the University of Pennsylvania, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and others, a treatment known as prolonged exposure was linked to significant symptom reductions and a loss of PTSD diagnosis in nearly half of study participants, with treatment gains largely maintained over time.
The researchers are calling the study, a clinical trial with 370 active-duty service members conducted at the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center on Fort Hood from January 2011 to July 2016, the first of its kind.
Edna Foa, professor of clinical psychology in psychiatry in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, led the study. According to a news release, Foa developed prolonged exposure treatment, a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy involving exposure to trauma memories and to daily-life trauma reminders.
“In the last two decades, the number of individuals suffering from trauma and resulting PTSD has increased dramatically in the U.S. and around the world as a result of massive natural disasters, increased terror attacks, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Foa said in a release. “This increase has resulted in an urgent need to disseminate evidence-based treatments to mental health professionals around the world.”
The research institutions are affiliated with the STRONG STAR Consortium, a multi-institutional research network funded by the Department of Defense to find the most effective methods to prevent and treat combat-PTSD and related conditions.
Findings were published Jan. 23 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Alan Peterson, professor of psychiatry with UT Health San Antonio and director of the STRONG STAR Consortium, said the need is particularly great for the DOD, which has had almost 2 million service members deploy in support of combat operations since Sept. 11, 2001. Up to 20 percent of these service members are believed to suffer from PTSD.
“That is why now, based on these study findings, the DOD already has made policy recommendations and is acting quickly to make PE more widely available at its clinics,” Peterson said.
Peterson said the study was only the first step in a process of alleviating PTSD symptoms.
A separate study called “Project Remission,” jointly funded by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. follows up on the current study to see how the treatment might be incorporated into an intensive outpatient treatment with higher success rates.
The study is open to service members and veterans and is operating at sites in San Antonio, Waco and Fort Hood.
“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,” Peterson said. “That fits with the ultimate goal of all STRONG STAR research. We want to find the best treatments for combat-PTSD, as well as the best ways of delivering those treatments, so that we can help more of our nation’s war-fighters recover from their psychological wounds and maintain or resume full, productive lives.”
For more information on all STRONG STAR studies, visit www.strongstar.org/treatment.