A type of talk therapy has shown strong, if initial, results in helping active-duty soldiers manage post-traumatic stress disorder, which has been associated with suicide. The federal government should accelerate secondary research to ensure the treatment’s efficacy, then double-time the therapy to hospitals and deployment zones.
A three-year study of cognitive processing therapy on solders at Fort Hood, Texas, found that 40 percent to 50 percent showed recovery after 12 sessions. In all, 268 soldiers took part. Those who showed improvement were still doing well six months later, according to follow-up exams, and those who received individual therapy did better than those in group talk sessions. Evidence of improvement included less withdrawal, fewer flashbacks, less depression and fewer thoughts of suicide.
The therapy teaches veterans, who often feel blame and guilt because of their combat experiences, how to view troubling thoughts in a more clear-headed light. “You will learn how to examine whether the facts support your thought or do not support your thought,” says the website of the National Center for PTSD, part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “And ultimately, you can decide whether or not it makes sense to take a new perspective.”
Soldiers may have to talk and write about combat-related trauma during the therapy, but the center says most feel better as they go along and consider the benefits worth the effort. The therapy already is widely used on veterans who have left the armed forces. The success rate with that group is higher than it was with active-duty soldiers in the Fort Hood study, indicating the latter may face a more complicated kind of PTSD because they’re still in combat environments.
Although it may not be a panacea, cognitive processing therapy portends better treatment for many current soldiers with PTSD. They’ve sacrificed for their country. They shouldn’t be captives of PTSD, forced to live in combat zones forever.