In a new of sorts, an intervention – multi-modular motion-assisted memory desensitization and reconsolidation (3MDR) – has been designed to help veterans like Matt Neve, who had been deployed in the Iraq war, cope with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The novel treatment combines therapeutic techniques such as virtual reality (VR) and rapid eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy to stabilize the aftershock and trauma that many war survivors face as they return to civilian life.
The study carried out by Professor Jon Bisson from Cardiff University for the purpose of validating the efficacy of the treatment is said to be a milestone. For the first time it was observed that patients who otherwise had a history of dropping out had high levels of engagement in the treatment process. Most of the participants in the trail had on an average “four unsuccessful treatments.”
The results of the study also indicated a significant decrease in the severity of PTSD symptoms in patients who had undertaken the treatment as compared to the control group. While the dropout rate was as low as 7 percent, 45 percent patients actually recorded significant improvement. Even though the efficacy of the treatment process was established, experts feel that larger phase III trials would be needed to establish the therapy as a protocol.
How do EDMR and virtual reality help process traumatic experience and clear avoidance behavior?
While the standard procedure in any PTSD treatment plan consists of counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medications that facilitate the release of pent up grievances, other psychological procedures have been utilized from time to time with good results.
EDMR: is a kind of psychotherapy that involves processing distressing trauma-related recollections, thoughts and emotional state. During the process of EMDR, the psychiatrist/counselor asks the patient to pay attention to either a sound or an oscillating movement while delving deep into the traumatic memory.
Virtual reality therapy: This involves the use of virtual means such as the one used in the current study where the patient walks on the treadmill while interacting with images and music related to the trauma they had witnessed.
For Matt – the Iraq war veteran who tried to commit suicide in an attempt to get relief from his symptoms once and for all – VR therapy had the biggest impact. This is because the only way to get over the traumatic experience that leads to PTSD is to get over avoidance behavior and deal with it and virtual reality makes the patient do just that. Matt, like many others, had treatment-resistant PTSD, which means that counseling and CBT made no difference in his condition.
What is treatment-resistant PSTD and why are vets more prone to it?
PTSD, like depression, is a silent killer. As military personnel are more likely to have lived in or coped with a highly stressful situation, PTSD is more common among them compared to the public at large. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 7 to 8 percent of the population will experience PTSD at some point of time in their lives with military veterans being at a higher risk. Some of the signs that a person is suffering from PTSD include:
- Witnessing flashbacks or having disturbing dreams related to the traumatic incident
- Employing avoidance tactics such as places and incidents associated with the trauma
- Drinking heavily or doing drugs with the intention of coping with the inner turmoil
- No interest in daily activities or activities that were enjoyed earlier
- Displaying uncharacteristic behavior like partying heavily
- Having occasional flare-ups and finding it difficult to fit in
- Getting startled easily due to underlying anxiety issues
- Inability to manage anger and other negative emotions
- Trouble sleeping, insomnia, feeling afraid of the dark
- Negative image of themselves and the world at large
- Failure to recollect an event in totality
- Feeling no remorse or guilt
- Suicide ideation
Depending on the conflict they have been through, war veterans have different risk percentages for contracting PTSD. For example, those serving in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have somewhere between 11 and 20 percent chances of developing PTSD, while those vets who served in the Vietnam war had a 30 percent higher risk of developing PTSD.
For war vets who are “treatment-resistant”, medication and psychotherapy have proven ineffective. Though there is no standard definition for treatment-resistant PTSD, it is understood as “remaining symptomatic even after at least six months of supportive counseling and at least six months of a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) at the maximally tolerated dosage.” Veterans who regularly fail to respond to established modes of
treatment have increased liabilities and find it harder to adjust to normal life due to the chronic disability and stress. Providing appropriate care for such vets is increasingly becoming a challenge for mental health professionals.
While there is no generalization rule as such, the risks of PSTD are higher if one is a war vet. In addition to the constant exposure to danger, the stress and the possibility of losing one’s life, becomes a trigger point for someone who has had a traumatic experience before. Even military men with a clean slate are not averse to developing PTSD after returning from active duty.
Dealing with PTSD
PTSD is a debilitating disorder that not only incapacitates a person mentally but also physically. There can be no greater anguish than to live the traumatic event day and night. Nonetheless, treatment for PTSD is possible and is highly recommended for patients to regain control of their lives. A typical PTSD treatment program would combine medications, counseling, and other therapies depending on the severity of the condition.
If you know someone who is suffering from PTSD, get in touch with the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline. We can help you connect with the best inpatient mental health treatment centers offering treatment for both PTSD and treatment-resistant PTSD. For more information on PTSD and the available treatment options, call our 24/7 mental health helpline 855-653-8178 and speak to an admission counselor. Alternatively, you can also chat online with our experts for further assistance.