In 2007, the Department of Veterans Affairs adopted a policy of using evidence-based therapy to treat PTSD. One such therapy they sponsored was prolonged exposure, although at the time, most of the evidence for its effectiveness was mostly limited to studies of civilians. But now, new research from the VA has demonstrated the effectiveness of prolonged exposure therapy in veterans.
One of the hallmarks of PTSD is avoidance. People with PTSD avoid situations or memories associated with their trauma, but prolonged exposure therapy works to help veterans confront these issues in a controlled environment. According to Edna Foa, head of the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and developer of prolonged exposure therapy, when veterans undertake a course of prolonged exposure therapy, “They realize they can talk about this event, and they don’t fall apart. It gives them a sense of control over the memory, rather than the memory controlling them.”
This study, led by Afsoon Eftekhair from the National Center for PTSD, VA Palo Alto Health Care System in California, involved 804 clinicians who received training in prolonged exposure therapy in a four-day course and their 1,931 patients. The patients were veterans from the Iraq, Afghanistan, Persian Gulf, and Vietnam Wars. The preliminary assessment of the patients involved a self-report of symptoms that was scored on a scale of 17 to 85, with a score of 50 or higher suggesting a diagnosis of PTSD. At the outset of the study, the veterans’ average score was 63, but after the nine-week treatment course, the score fell to an average of 48, with only 46% of patients still qualifying for a PTSD diagnosis.
Although nearly 25% of patients quit the study before treatment ended and there was no control group used, the results of this study do suggest that prolonged exposure therapy is effective for veterans.
This study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.