(Richard Sisk – www.military.com) –  VA Study Will Compare Effectiveness of Two Leading PTSD Treatments

Is it better to treat post-traumatic stress by consciously processing traumatic events or by prolonged exposure to memory of the trauma? Both methods have proven effective over time; but now the Department of Veterans Affairs is studying how they compare to each other in hopes of fine-tuning the therapy delivery system.

“Treatment for PTSD works. PTSD does not have to be a chronic disorder,” said Dr. Paula Schnur, executive director of the VA’s National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in White River Junction, Vermont and a professor of psychiatry at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. “We’re at a state right now where we have a number of treatments that are effective, but what we don’t know very much about is how the treatments compare with each other.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, PTSD affects a total of about 7.7 million American adult — civilians, active-duty military and veterans — who have experienced or witnessed traumatic events.

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that PTSD afflicts about 31 percent of Vietnam veterans, 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans, 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan, and 20 percent of Iraqi war veterans.

Schnur, who will mark her 29th year at the VA this month, said it was a privilege to be at the forefront of VA research on improving treatments.

“Being in the VA has been an incredible opportunity as a scientist to be doing the kind of research that can make a difference,” she said.

Her research has focused on the long-term physical and mental health outcomes of exposure to traumatic events, and she is currently overseeing a comparative study of two of the main regimens offered by the VA — prolonged exposure therapy (PE) and cognitive processing therapy (CPT).

In PE, the therapist will work with the veteran “to gradually approach trauma-related memories, feelings and situations,” according to the American Psychological Association’s description of the treatment. “Most people want to avoid anything that reminds them of the trauma they experienced, but doing so reinforces their fear. By facing what has been avoided, a person can decrease symptoms of PTSD by actively learning that the trauma-related memories and cues are not dangerous and do not need to be avoided.”


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