PTSD Awareness Month: Computer-based attention control training can effectively treat PTSD, suggests study

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that affects an individual who has experienced a shocking, scary, or life-threatening event. Typically, the symptoms of the condition, such as flashbacks, bad dreams, scary thoughts, inability to sleep properly and anger outbursts, begin to develop within three months of the traumatic incident, but at times, they tend to appear years later.

The condition has been affecting a major chunk of the population in the U.S. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 3.5 percent of the U.S. adult population has been diagnosed with PTSD.

While it is possible to treat the condition using medications and psychotherapies, attaining positive outcomes is both time-taking and costly. Therefore, in order to make PTSD treatment more effective, researchers from Creighton University of Nebraska Medical Center and a local nonprofit organization called At Ease USA have come up with an effective method to treat the same.

Known as attention control training (ACT), this new and unique computer-based game aims to help ease trauma faced by veterans and common men due to circumstances such as natural disasters, gun violence and domestic violence.

The game displays two faces on a computer screen, one angry and one with a neutral expression. Gradually, these faces begin to fade and an arrow begins to appear slowly on the screen instructing the player to press the equivalent key on the keyboard. The intent behind the game is to train the PTSD-affected brain to identify the perceived threat and then slowly instill the fact that it is irrelevant.

Although, the game’s implementation might sound simple it actually is not. The initial study results that were published in The American Journal of Psychiatry and shared by Amy S. Badura-Brack, the lead researcher for a series of Omaha clinical trials testing and studying the new computer-based treatment, suggested that nearly every PTSD-affected veteran who participated in the first clinical trial exhibited lower anxiety levels, and was less withdrawn when faced with stress. There was also a noticeable change in the brain functioning. The neuro-imaging of the participants’ brains suggested that their brains acted and appeared to be more like normal brains after undergoing treatment. In spite of the results of the first set of trials, the effectiveness of the treatment modality requires further research.

ACT benefits brain

While the traditional methods of training, such as exposure therapy, might not be able to deliver satisfactory results in terms of treating PTSD due to factors such as, cost, time and individuals avoiding to show up for appointments, this computer-based training is an effective treatment alternative favored because of its low cost, lesser time requirements and the elimination of showing up for an appointment to relive and discuss the trauma again and again.

Another benefit of this therapy is its ability to attack the core of PTSD, which, in turn, brings out positive results within hours instead of months. “Picture a funnel…now shift your gaze to the thin part of the funnel. That is the brain at its simplest…attention control training attacks PTSD at this thin part of the funnel,” explains Badura-Brack.

Treating PTSD is crucial

PTSD is taking many lives every day. Therefore, it has become crucial to help people either prevent its development or cope with it in a healthy way. This June, which is observed as PTSD Awareness Month, let’s spread awareness about PTSD and its effective treatments that can help individuals recover from the condition.

If you or someone you know is battling with PTSD or any other mental health illnesses, 24/7 Mental Health Helpline can help. Call our 24/7 helpline number 855-653-8178 or chat online to get complete information about the best facilities offering mental health programs in your vicinity.