Smartphones, Trauma and the Mental Health Revolution

Can a mobile phone application help veterans deal with trauma?  A new phone application, PE Coach, is already being used by thousands of veterans attending treatment and rebuilding their lives.

Developed by the Department of Defense’s (DOD) National Center for Telehealth and Technology, Center for Deployment and the Veterans’ Adminstration’s  (VA) National Center for PTSD,   PE Coach is a key component in the treatment program used with traumatized veterans.   Available for free download from iTunes and Google Play, PE Coach supplements the formal treatment manual followed by treatment professionals working at VA and DOD clinics across the United States.

Though treating posttraumatic stress disorder in returning veterans has posed major challenges for mental health professionals, the surge in new cases threatens to overwhelm available health services.  With an estimated 19 percent of the 1.6 million members of the U.S. Armed Services deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in the past five years reporting mental health symptoms, finding better treatment options has become more crucial than ever.   

As an alternative to medication-only approaches to treatment (which are often the only treatment many veterans receive),  the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Center for PTSD have sponsored research investigating better treatment options for veterans dealing with trauma symptoms.   Among the most promising approaches is the prolonged exposure therapy (PE) model first developed by Edna B. Foa.   Based on the behaviour therapy principles developed by Joseph Wolpe,  PE was specifically developed to  treat PTSD by having patients re-experience traumatic events to help them learn to handle the anxiety associated with those events.   Using methods such as imaginal and in-vivo exposure (where patients experience realistic simulations of the traumatic setting or event), patients can learn to defuse their learned anxiety and control their panic symptoms.   Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of PE in treating veterans with PTSD as well as survivors of physical and sexual abuse.

To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.


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