WACO - The Waco VA Center of Excellence will receive more than $4-million to help fund two research projects related to post traumatic stress disorder treatments. The studies will take two to three years and will include local veterans and active duty Fort Hood soldiers diagnosed with PTSD.
Both projects are centered around Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PE), a treatment with a known success rate. This method requires the patient to repeatedly talk about their worst trauma until it no longer affects them.
"The more we face that fear directly the easier it gets," said Dr. Diane Castillo, Center of Excellence Core Treatment leader. "Typically what we see happen, is some of those associated symptoms like nightmares and flashbacks sometimes worsen initially, but as long as they stick with it those symptoms get less."
The first project, "Project Remission: Maximizing Outcomes with Intensive Outpatient Treatments for PTSD", is a more intense form of PE over a shorter period of time where the therapist meets with the individual every day.
"If we can condense the treatment from a 3-month treatment to a 3-week treatment we can provide that therapy and get results much more quickly," said Castillo.
Castillo says they hope the new method will also improve treatment dropout rates by cutting back the amount of time needed for the treatment. "If we can get people to come in for this short time, we may be able to deal with issues like vacations, medical issues, and other things going on," she said.
Researchers at the Center of Excellence will study this intense method with 200 patients diagnosed with PTSD over the next two years. Of those, 100 will be active duty soldiers (50 from Fort Hood), and the other 100 will be veterans (50 from the Waco VA).
The second project focuses on veteran students going to college.
"Many veterans are taking advantage of the Post 9/11 GI Bill to go back to school," said Dr. Eric Meyer, Clinical Research Psychologist. "Unfortunately we know a significant subset of veterans struggle with returning to school. Part of that might be due to mental health changes."
Through this study, 100 veterans attending universities in Texas will go through Written Exposure Therapy, a form of PE where the veteran writes about their traumatic experience.
"This treatment approach, we really think, is helpful as a way to gently guide people to confront some of the feelings and thoughts they tend to avoid about the traumatic experience," said Meyer.
The veterans will go through a handful of 40-minute writing sessions guided by a mental health professional. Meyer says this form of treatment is more self-directed and less intense than regular prolonged exposure therapy.
"This treatment requires relatively little commitment and relatively little training on the part of the therapist," said Meyer. "We think this can really be disseminated, and we can train people across the country to deliver this treatment to student veterans around the nation."
If proven to be effective, Meyer says this form of treatment could help veteran student dropout rates and help veterans transition into the next chapter of their lives.
Over the course of the next three years, the research conducted with these two projects could potentially impact PTSD treatments worldwide.
"We are setting the stage and leading the country in that way," said Castillo.
The funding was awarded by the Consortium to Alleviate PTSD, a joint Department of Defense and Veteran Affairs project, funded by the President.