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USF offers new PTSD therapy to veterans

This month College of Nursing researchers are hoping to begin a cutting-edge treatment study, funded by the U.S. Army, for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The College is now looking for 40 to 80 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to participate in Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART), which researchers say can have instant success replacing traumatic images in PTSD patients. Researchers say the study, which is currently being reviewed by USF and the Army, will hopefully begin in July and will provide the first statistical evidence for the therapy’s success.

Carrie Elk – an assistant professor, ART-certified specialist and co-investigator – said there are only about 50 people in the world certified to practice the therapy. Associate professor and lead investigator Kevin Kip said 25 of them have been trained in the greater Tampa Bay area.

Kip said anecdotal evidence from clients who have used ART shows its “substantial benefit” in reducing the level of psychological trauma, depression and anxiety symptoms found in those with PTSD.

Specialists sit with clients who are instructed to follow the path of the specialist’s hand with their eyes as the specialist waves his or her arm back and forth. The treatment combines elements from time-tested guided imagery, gestalt, behavior and eye-movement therapies.

“It’s the combination and the protocol that make it so effective,” Elk said. “It’s not something new, it’s not something weird. It’s a combination.”

USF’s study of the treatment came about after Kip received a $2.1 million Army grant in September 2010 to start a clinic for veterans from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Because he is not a licensed mental health clinician, Kip hired Elk in September to spearhead the ART study.

Elk was trained by therapist Laney Rosenzweig, who discovered the therapy and has trained every ART-certified specialist. Since then, Elk has performed the therapy on about 80 clients – veterans and non-veterans – between her private practice and clients currently being treated from a different grant, she said.

“The training is pretty intensive – it’s a couple of days long, a 100-page manual and we’re responsible for all the information in there,” she said. “Clinicians need to be a licensed master level or higher, that includes supervision and observation by the founder.”

Kip said about $450,000 of the Army grant is going toward ART. The rest is allocated for four other studies, including two Web-based interventions for treating emotional problems and symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury, a study for measuring the prevalence of PTSD among active duty service members and veterans and a day of recognition and health screenings for female veterans.

Aside from feelings of trauma associated with symptoms of PTSD, Elk said the disorder can lead to substance abuse, domestic violence, suicide, homicide or child abuse among those who go untreated.

“PTSD with the military right now is a problem because of the multiple deployments and the nature of the war, of what’s being seen,” Elk said.

ELK said ART seems to provide instant results, and if a client has one traumatic incident in his or her life, such as a car accident or a death in the family, that client can normally be relieved of trauma in one session or at most three. However, veterans can often have several traumatic memories and may require multiple sessions to resolve each separate memory, lengthening the process. As a rule, specialists process one traumatic scene per session.

“A lot of times with PTSD, people will wake up with nightmares, or they’ll hear a noise, a loud noise, and the image will pop in their head, that’s how PTSD works,” she said. “But now they don’t have that image anymore so there’s nothing to attach to it anymore – and if there is, it’s a positive one, not a negative one anymore.”

The way the therapy works is through replacing a traumatic image with an image the client would rather see instead.

“There is no telling what that is because the person makes it up themselves, which is fantastic because it’s more authentic,” she said.

Despite her current enthusiasm, Elk said she was once skeptical of the therapy.

“After 20 years in the mental health field, something where we can process a trauma scene in one session didn’t seem realistic,” she said. “I went to the training with an open mind, even though it seemed a little strange to me.”

However, now Elk feels the therapy may be primed to become the number one option for the military in treating PTSD sufferers.

“We see anecdotally that it works,” she said. “It’s very promising, but we need to put ART through rigorous scientific investigation. We need to really test it and, just like anything else, it needs to be put to the test and see how it performs over the long haul. But, if the results come out the way I would think that they would based on what I’ve seen, I would imagine this being something the military would use, as a first choice even, because it works quickly, provides fast relief and it’s very economical because it doesn’t go on a long time.”

For more information or to participate in the study, veterans of the Afghanistan or Iraq wars should contact the College of Nursing at 813-974-9310.