A New Digital Treatment for PTSD

A new study suggests that PTSD symptoms of military veterans can be alleviated by computerized treatment.

Researchers at Creighton University in Nebraska, Tel Aviv University and the National Institute of Mental Health have devised a computer program capable of curbing PTSD symptoms by reducing fluctuations in attention toward and away from perceived threats. 

The study, published by The American Journal of Psychiatry, involved separate trials with U.S. military veterans and Israel Defense Forces veterans and compared the results of two computerized methods for treating PTSD.

In the computer program, two stimuli (threatening or neutral) appear on the screen, followed by a target (an arrow) pointing left or right. The treatment – four to eight sessions lasting 10-15 minutes each – teaches participants that threatening stimuli are irrelevant to performing a specific task, requiring them to attend equally to threatening and neutral stimuli. 

The researchers hope to retrain the participant’s neural network to regain the balance between threat avoidance and threat vigilance. 

 “People with PTSD have symptoms that alternate between over-attending to and avoiding potentially threatening information,” says Dr. Amy Badura-Brack, professor of psychology at Creighton University, and the study’s lead author. “Attention control training appears to reduce symptoms of PTSD by regulating this difficulty and teaching people with PTSD to ignore irrelevant threatening information.”

“Our results were promising,” agreed Dr. Yair Bar Haim, co-author of the study and director of Tel Aviv University’s Laboratory for Research on Anxiety and Trauma. “The program produced a significant reduction in severe PTSD symptoms with a similar success rate as cognitive behavioral therapy.”

They are currently at work developing a web-deliverable version of the treatment for testing. 

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Creighton University
Professor of Psychology
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