The recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in an increasing number of veterans returning from overseas with post-traumatic stress disorder , which at times makes carrying out normal functions difficult.
But current PTSD therapies are often ineffective and often lead to patients dropping out of the programs after they fail to see positive effects, Kevin Kip, executive director of the USF College of Nursing Research Center, said.
Kip said this led him to search for treatments that would take effect far more quickly.
“I knew the need was very great in our military for a cure for emotional and psychological problems,” he said. “I was looking for a new therapy to help out our veterans,” Kip said.
In September 2010, the Research Center received $2 million from the U.S. Department of Defense to investigate an emerging treatment method, known as Accelerated Resolution Therapy .
In ART, the PTSD patient is asked to reimagine the traumatic experience, eliciting physiological reactions, such as sweating and increased heart rate.
The ART therapist reduces these symptoms, by having the patient move his or her eyes from right to left, following the therapist’s waving hand. Next, the patient is asked to imagine a positive way to remember the experience, which replaces the previously traumatic one.
“For most instances, in a couple sessions without any homework or verbalizing details, we can dramatically reduce the symptoms of PTSD,” Kip said.
Unlike most therapies for PTSD, which last anywhere from eight to 12 sessions, ART takes one to three sessions, requires no homework outside of the clinic and requires no verbalization of the traumatic events.
“The current methods require many therapy sessions, which causes variable success and high dropout rates,” Kip said.
Along with a team of professional researchers, 25 therapists and a trained staff, Kip began this study on civilians in the Tampa Bay area before testing it on veterans. The results, Kip said, will soon be published in Military Medicine magazine.
The study showed that less than 2 percent of people stated their symptoms worsened, and the dropout rate was approximately 6 percent. The low dropout rate is a result of the limited number of therapy sessions required for ART, as well as the lack of homework and medicine given to the patients.
Larry Braue, director of the Office of Veterans Services, said he’s seen many veterans on campus who deal with PTSD.
The difficult aspect of the disease, he said, is that there are various triggers that may serve as an impetus for a traumatic memory.
“It could be as simple as driving to work in the morning, when you can see something that triggers that memory, and you have a flashback of the moment. It would be anything that reminds you of that incident,” Braue said.
Though PTSD is most prevalent with veterans who have been exposed to any combat experience, PTSD may also affect civilians.
“Anyone who has been in a very bad car accident, mugged, raped or harmed by someone can experience PTSD. It’s not just a military phenomenon,” Braue said.
In August, the researchers trained four psychiatric nurse practitioners at the University of Stirling in Scotland, where the therapy is being used on British veterans. It may soon expand to other countries such as Denmark and Israel, Kip said.
Even though the results have been promising, Kip said, further research is needed before any major breakthroughs can be made.
“We have a new study initiating in a couple weeks,” he said. “Two hundred more veterans will be evaluated with ART.”
One question that still remains is how ART works on a biological level.
“We are still unsure of how the mechanics of this therapy work,” Kip said. “We will be looking to expand the study to incorporate brain imaging to help gain a better understanding.”