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New therapy cures PTSD in half of vets in just three weeks

More than half of participants lost their PTSD diagnosis at the end of treatment.

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By Gwyn Wright via SWNS

A therapy that cures PTSD in more than half of army veterans in just three weeks has been developed by scientists.

Handsome soldier reunited with partner against an american flag
(ESB Professional via Shutterstock)

The treatment, which is called prolonged exposure therapy, works by forcing soldiers to confront painful memories of war.

It can also alleviate symptoms of the condition in more than 60 percent of sufferers.

The therapy led to significant improvements in daily functioning and people who did it showed fewer signs of disability related to the condition.

The University of Texas team said the method will help Iraq and Afghanistan veterans recover and may one day be used to help victims of the War in Ukraine.

The treatment induces veterans to retell their trauma stories and also contains homework tasks to help them engage in activities they would otherwise avoid because they trigger too many traumatic memories.

It aims to help patients process thoughts about their trauma, calm the anxiety the memories provoke, and take back control of their lives.

In an earlier study, sufferers on active duty were told to take part in either 10 sessions lasting an hour and a half over eight weeks or daily 90-minute sessions over two weeks.

Both formats were equally effective at curing the condition and reducing symptoms.

However, the fast-track treatment had lower dropout rates.

The researchers said these findings were “encouraging” but it was still much less successful than among civilians treated with the same therapy.

This led the team to think about how they could tweak it to improve outcomes for soldiers.

They thought that, in the earlier study, participants may not have had enough time to complete homework and may have faced several distractions.

Close-up of psychologist writing down notes while talking to her patient from army
(Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

For both arms of the new study, treatment time was expanded from two weeks to three, because the team suspected combat-induced PTSD would be more difficult to treat and patients may need more time to process traumatic memories.

They were also allowed leave from work to complete the treatment.

One arm of the new study, called Massed-PE, had these treatment delivery changes only.

The other arm, called Intensive Outpatient or IOP-PE, had several additional enhancements that researchers suspected would improve treatment outcomes for combat-related PTSD.

Lead study author Dr. Alan Peterson from the University of Texas explained: “Often, a civilian trauma involves a one-time traumatic event, such as an accident, or a repeated trauma of a certain type, such as abuse.

“In the course of one or more combat deployments, service members may experience hundreds of traumatic events involving different types of traumas.

“They also may have experienced other types of trauma outside the combat environment.

“We wanted to adapt the traditional PE protocol, in which a patient focuses only on one primary trauma during treatment, and allow patients in this study to work with therapists on their three top traumas.”

During the treatment, participants would have to face up to three traumas – starting with the least traumatic as they gained confidence in the therapy and building up to the most traumatic.

Other changes included having more than one doctor supporting a patient, clinic-based completion of homework to reduce avoidance and involving friends and family in some sessions and post-treatment booster sessions.

The team found both Massed-PE and IOP-PE showed similar reductions in PTSD symptoms and related disabilities and similar increases in remission rates and improved psychosocial functioning over time.

Their effectiveness at curing the condition was more than 10 points higher than in the earlier study.

On some measures, Massed-PE led to greater improvements initially that decreased by the six-month follow-up.

IOP-PE patients were more likely to maintain their improvements six months after treatment.

The team says the additional resources needed for IOP-PE may not be necessary but called the findings “highly positive.”

Dr. Peterson added: “With about two-thirds of participants reporting clinically meaningful symptom improvement and more than half losing their PTSD diagnosis, this study provides important new evidence that combat-related PTSD can be effectively treated – in as little as three weeks.

“While condensed treatments may not be feasible for everyone, results show compressed formats adapted to the military context resulted in significant, meaningful and lasting improvements in PTSD, disability and functional impairments for most participants.”

The team says the treatment methods analyzed in their research will help researchers evaluate new therapies which combine cognitive behavioral therapies with medicines and medical devices.

The findings were published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

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