Treating Soldiers with PTSD

With concerns about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in military veterans on the rise, the number and types of potential therapies to treat the condition are also increasing. From psychologists to tech companies, researchers are coming up with possible new solutions for a condition that can derail soldiers’ lives long after the battles end.

A Closer Look at PTSD

When people or even children find themselves in traumatic situations that frighten, scare or endanger them, the body triggers a “fight-or-flight” response. For those with PTSD, the reaction changes, triggering the response even when danger is no longer present.

PTSD is often characterized by dark thoughts, nightmares and flashbacks of the trigger trauma. People with this condition may feel numb, guilty and may suffer from depression, as well.

The Pentagon said in April 2014 that more than 155,000 U.S. troops have PTSD; about 75% of them are combat veterans. The rate of suicides among veterans is also significantly higher than the average population, USA Today reports. The rate of suicides among veterans age 18 to 24 is about 80 per 100,000. Non-veterans in the same age group had a rate of 20 per 100,000.

Treating the Symptoms

Considering the numbers, much research has been dedicated to helping those with PTSD manage and overcome symptoms. Some developments include:

  • Lucid dreaming – This therapy is hoped to help those with PTSD learn to take control over their nightmares in an effort to combat the negative effects of these often terrifying dreams that have them reliving the trauma. Researchers in Germany believe they have found a way to trigger lucid dreams that would empower those with nightmares to change their outcomes, according to Healthline.
  • Smartphone apps – A company called tiag is working with the National Center for Telehealth & Technology to create apps that PTSD sufferers can install on their phones. Breathe2Relax is launched when a stressful situation occurs, enabling the sufferer to work through the trauma by practicing breathing techniques to restore calm. The Virtual Hope Box is a second app that helps battle depression. This app contains images of things that make a depression sufferer feel happy so it can be triggered for review when feelings of sadness overwhelm.
  • Prolonged-exposure therapy – Developed by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Dr. Edna Foa, this therapy has soldiers relive traumatic events in a controlled environment so they can eventually master their reactions to the events.
  • Animal therapy – This form of therapy pairs a PTSD sufferer with a therapy pet to combat the loneliness so commonly associated with the condition. It also serves to help sufferers develop a nonjudgmental, accepting relationship.
  • Role Play – Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a clinician, researcher and teacher in the area of posttraumatic stress and related phenomena since the 1970s, is developing a form of role play he uses in workshops titled “Trauma Memory and Recovery of Self.” Unlike typical role play sessions, van der Kolk’s undertaking involves alternate endings that enable a rewriting of history of sorts, enabling PTSD sufferers to gain control over the traumatic memories.
  • Relaxation therapy – Doctors at River Hospital along the St. Lawrence River are combing art therapy and relaxation to help soldiers from Fort Drum combat the effects of PTSD. “Relaxation is a big problem at times with some of the soldiers,” explained Brad Frey, who oversees the River Community Wellness Program. “The river and the peaceful backdrop helps us get them to be more relaxed.”

With an estimated 1,000 new cases of PTSD diagnosed each week, the need for effective therapies and psychologists to lead them is on the rise.

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