CBT Helps Prevent Soldiers from Developing Symptoms of PTSD

Research indicates that 4.3% of troops develop PTSD upon returning from combat. A recent epidemiological study published by the Digital Access to Scholarship At Harvard describes a program launched by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in an effort to reduce the risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in post-war veterans. This initiative ensures that all combat veterans, regardless of occupational rank, will receive evidence-based cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) upon returning from war.

In the current study, American, British, and Dutch authorities administered a number of epidemiological surveys to post-war veterans. These surveys were designed to evaluate the mental health status of veterans upon returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Results of these surveys showed tense, irritable, and depressive-like symptoms among these soldiers, therefore making many of them candidates for CBT treatment. Participants in the study received either prolonged exposure (PE) treatment, which requires patients to recount traumatic memories repeatedly within a structured, supportive therapeutic context until distress declines, or cognitive processing therapy (CPT) which requires patients to write continuously about their traumatic experience. Of the 66% of veterans who completed the PE program, 74% had post-treatment scores that fell below the cutoff for PTSD.

Since this study, the Army has also developed a number of methods to prevent soldiers from developing symptoms for PTSD. One post-deployment early intervention program, Battlemind Debriefing, focuses on preparing soldiers with the specific skills they need to transition from combat zone to home. The Army has also developed similar training programs for larger groups transitioning from home to combat units. These programs teach soldiers “emotional bonding skills” that are useful to their specific combat unit. Rather than having soldiers focus on the traumatic events they have experienced, these programs focus on strengthening their family relationships and coping skills. According to the author, the prospects for resiliency and recovery from PTSD are at their current highest, as VA is ensuring evidence based treatment. Still, the “surest route to preventing PTSD in the world is to further the global decline in violence” (McNally, 13).

McNally, Richard J. (2013). Are we Winning the War Against Posttraumatic Stress Disorder? Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard. Science 336 (6083). 1-16.

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