HomeNewsArticle Display

PTSD treatment confronts the trauma behind the disorder

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AFNS) -- Post-traumatic stress disorder is considered one of the “signature wounds” of the current conflicts in the Middle East. But many people may not know that there are highly effective treatments for this invisible wound being deployed at Air Force hospitals and clinics today.

It’s normal to feel stressed and anxious after a traumatic event. For patients with PTSD, those feelings don’t go away with time. PTSD can leave its sufferers feeling anxious, exhausted and depressed. They often relive the traumatic event over and over in their mind, and respond by avoiding situations that remind them of the traumatic event, shutting off emotional responses, and by feeling constantly “on edge” or tense, with exaggerated angry outbursts.

Scientifically researched and proven methods for treating PTSD work by getting the patient to confront and learn to process the trauma causing their symptoms. The process can start by talking with anyone, like a health care provider, chaplain or even just a friend.

“Ultimately, people with PTSD need to speak with a mental health provider,” said Maj. Joel Foster, the Air Force Medical Service chief of Deployment Mental Health, and a licensed psychologist. “We use very specific treatments that have been subjected to scientific scrutiny and research investigation, and we want people with PTSD to get those treatments.”

All Air Force mental health providers are trained in evidence-based techniques to treat PTSD. One such technique is called Prolonged Exposure therapy. PE therapy is a protocol based treatment, meaning the provider works through a structured and scripted process with the patient. There are usually eight to twelve sessions, lasting 60 to 90 minutes each. During the therapy sessions, the provider guides the patient through two techniques that help them learn to process their trauma – imaginal exposure and in-vivo exposure.

“In imaginal exposure, we expose the patient to thoughts, memories and associations that are linked to the trauma,” said Foster. “They talk in detail about the traumatic event, and we record the discussion. They go from the start to the finish of their traumatic event, and between sessions, they listen to the recording. As the title “prolonged exposure” suggests, we do this over and over for several weeks.”

This is intended to habituate the patient to talking and hearing about the traumatic event. Whereas the event was once a source of anxiety and distress, the brain learns to remember it without those severe feelings. The memory is never pleasant, but it is no longer disabling.

“Imaginal exposure works the same way we get used to other things in life,” said Foster. “If you live near the subway or an airport, you may not sleep much the first couple of nights. Eventually though, you do get used to it, and you’ll be able to sleep right through it.”

In-vivo exposure does the same thing, but in real life. The patient and the provider make a list of situations, locations and other stimuli that remind the patient of the traumatic event, and rank them based on the level of distress. Working together, they come up with a plan for the patient to go to those places and gradually get used the situations.

“These ‘homework assignments’ ramp up,” said Foster. “It might start out as going to the grocery store during low hours for 30 minutes, and you do it over and over, until you are gradually spending an hour during busy times.”

This treatment floods the patient with sensations and experiences that are distressing to them, and builds up their tolerance. While it may initially be an unpleasant experience for some patients, Foster says the results speak for themselves.

“It’s a really hard thing to do, since PTSD patients really don’t want to think about things that remind them of their trauma,” said Foster. “But it works. More than 20 years of research and testing have gone into this treatment. We see about an 80 percent reduction in symptoms using this technique, and many service members are able to return to active duty after treatment.”

Engage

Twitter
Taking care of Airmen and their families. #TotalForce #Resiliency https://t.co/GYAl6bMEkQ
Twitter
What does anxiety look like? Capt. Lindsay Cordero uses art to express herself and counter anxiety during #COVID19https://t.co/Zli3P9gY4Z
Twitter
Join Dr. Will Roper for an Ask Me Anything on Oct. 26 from 2:30-4:00 p.m. It will focus on Deep Tech & Moonshots: H… https://t.co/xw1hPTEf8q
Twitter
Keep fighting! Keep improving! Never Give Up! 💪 #Resilient #ReadyAF #AimHigh https://t.co/lyPHBhxLsL
Twitter
In trying times, #USAF readiness remains. Aviano Air Base's 606th Air Control Squadron deployed Airmen and assets… https://t.co/C1DS0qxLAl
Twitter
Keeping our technological advantage. #InnovativeAF https://t.co/10yOg5g0nX
Twitter
Night ops in support of @SecAFOfficial's Arctic Strategy. Airmen train on nighttime airborne ops at Joint Base Elm… https://t.co/2RTLbL26A6
Twitter
Join Dr. Will Roper for an Ask Me Anything on Oct. 26 from 2:30-4:00 p.m. It will focus on Deep Tech & Moonshots: H… https://t.co/JzXk2G7gTE
Twitter
Strengthening international partnerships. #ReadyAF https://t.co/XPKWn6rx5Z
Twitter
Supporting senior leader priorities by modernizing the force! #InnovativeAF https://t.co/l7ki9ffj6m
Twitter
Herculian birds in the sky 🦅 🦅 🦅 The 120th Airlift Wing tested their readiness w/a 6-ship formation of C-130 Her… https://t.co/UNqpKf1UkC
Twitter
“The #COVID19 crisis has dynamically changed our entire world." Dover AFB is the first @AirMobilityCmd base to con… https://t.co/Q2idnUCxoo
Twitter
Join Dr. Will Roper for an Ask Me Anything on Oct. 26 from 2:30-4:00 p.m. It will focus on Deep Tech & Moonshots: H… https://t.co/zXtgKlx455
Twitter
Dominate the EMS The Electromagnetic Spectrum exists in Air, Space, & Cyberspace. Whether you’re at home or in com… https://t.co/N9dhhB3D9n
Twitter
Supporting the Department of the Air Force Arctic Strategy. From development to ops in less than a year! These inn… https://t.co/kDXsw1hJ8P
Twitter
Taking care of people The Women’s Health Transition Training, which is offered virtually, provides information on… https://t.co/yL9UQ0V9rf
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: I believe that success takes a team, but failure you can do alone. Grateful for the chance to sit down and connect with a…
Twitter
RT @HQ_AFMC: A new $33 million contract is increasing #COVID19 testing capabilities at 42 #military treatment facilities across the @usairf
Facebook
The newest Air Force Podcast recently dropped. Listen to a small snippet of CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright talk with Staff Sgt. New about resiliency. Listen to the entire podcast on Youtube: https://go.usa.gov/xpnAD or Subscribe to The Air Force Podcast on iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/the-air-force-podcast/id1264107694?mt=2
Facebook
Our mantra, "Always ready!" It's the spirit we fly by! #B2Tuesday
Facebook
Need some motivation to get your week started off right? Listen as CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright weighs in...
Facebook
The U.S. Air Force Academy gives its cadets some unique opportunities. Ride along one of this opportunities.
Facebook
A United States Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refuels an F-22 Raptor over northern Iraq, Nov. 6, 2019. U.S. Central Command operations deter adversaries and demonstrate support for allies and partners in the region. (Video by Staff Sgt. Daniel Snider)
Facebook
Although the Silver Star is the third-highest military medal, it's not given often. Today, TSgt Cody Smith was the 49th Special Tactics Airman to receive this medal since Sept. 11th, 2001. Read more of TSgt Smith's amazing story: https://www.airforcespecialtactics.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2024815/special-tactics-airman-battled-through-injuries-awarded-silver-star/fbclid/IwAR2LZWwx1VHdTnQe39rIEBOuJS_0JvMQBBGt7I-E6zsxxn-Lx9387yu43Bc/ Cannon Air Force Base Air Force Special Operations Command United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)
Facebook
Tune in as our Air Force musicians along with other military musicians are awarded the National Medal of Arts.
Facebook
Like Us
Twitter
1,297,053
Follow Us