Majority of PTSD Treatments Prove Ineffective
> 10/19/2007 9:40:50 AM

The United States military faces increasing public pressure to improve the scope and quality of treatments available to thousands of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan under the disruptive influence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. But repeated attempts to determine which approaches are most effective have proven inconclusive, according to the U.S. Institute of Medicine. The Institute established a research panel to assess the results of almost 100 independent studies measuring the efficiency of therapeutic and pharmaceutical treatments for PTSD, and their conclusions are not particularly encouraging: exposure therapy was the only option that pre-existing clinical data revealed to be be relatively effective.

Exposure therapy is effective, according to its advocates, because it directly counters PSTD's primary determining factor - a learned and sometimes subconscious tendency to avoid all thoughts of the trauma in question and bypass the pain of revisiting the incident. These behaviors often compromise a patient's social, personal and professional lives- individuals injured in car accidents, for example, may prove extremely reluctant to automobiles, and war veterans may go to obsessive lengths to avoid any overt mention of war. Personal relationships and occupational productivity may suffer because of this. The images and ideas that constrain affected patients may be far removed from reality, and sometimes therapists find that the only way to help patients re-establish a more positive, rational thought pattern is to force them to confront the very roots of their deep-seated anxiety. SSRIs and antipsychotics may treat some of PTSD's more obvious symptoms, but they cannot remedy its underlying causes. Studies of standard psychotherapy techniques and more experimental treatments such as eye movement desensitization and brain-wave neurofeedback did not provide enough useful data for researchers to reach a conclusion on their relative efficiency.

Still, this very limited conclusion does not in any way disclude medication or therapy as valid PTSD treatments. Researchers warn against overvaluing the project's results, naming the lack of reliable data as the reason for its inconclusive nature. While they were able to find a number of studies that fit their criteria, the panel found on further examination that high dropout rates (20-50%) in longitudinal studies, coupled with the fact that research into the effects of various medications was most often financed by the companies who developed them and that most therapeutic studies involved practitioners and associates assessing methods of their own design, diluted the material in terms of both statistical data and general credibility.

This project, at the very least, serves to highlight the urgent need for more expansive research into PTSD, its causes and and its most effective treatments. Without reliable, up-to-date information, U.S. military and health policy organizations (as well as insurance providers) will understandably remain reluctant to approve and put into practice any wide-scale PTSD treatment programs, and further promises to help relieve the emotional traumas affecting our returning soliders will continue to ring like the hollow "compassionate" political mantras they are. Returning servicemembers may hesitate to seek treatment for the condition due to the very valid concern that a positive diagnosis would not only label them as veritable invalids but compromise their future employment prospects and insurance status. We cannot allow these fears to leave them frozen behind the dark veil of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

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