Coping with PTSD

Coping with PTSD

Anette Hernandez Diaz, Staff Writer

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event.  For example, someone who has experienced or witnessed something traumatic in the past, may show symptoms that include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

Most people who go through traumatic events, may have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping, but with time and self-care, they can get better. If the symptoms get worse, last for months or even years, and interfere with your day-to-day functioning, some people may have PTSD. Getting effective treatment after symptoms develop can be critical to reduce symptoms and improve function. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a chronic, disabling condition that occurs in a subgroup of individuals after experiencing traumatic stress, and is common in Veterans seeking mental health treatment in the local Veteran Affairs center.

Although psychosocial treatments exist for PTSD, a substantial portion of individuals do not fully respond to treatment. Also, there is a clear need to continue researching novel interventions for PTSD in Veterans. Recently, new interventions for mental health disorders have used computer training techniques in order to improve the functioning of cognitive systems and reduce symptoms. This type of intervention, often referred to as neurotherapeutics, and hold promise for PTSD as a method for symptoms and improving cognition.

Individuals with PTSD demonstrate difficulties with cognitive control functions, which appear to be causally implicated in symptoms of the disorder. The current proposal aims to research the basic neurocognitive mechanisms of PTSD with intervention research by conducting a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of a cognitive control training program in 80 Veterans with PTSD. Veterans complete computer-based training exercises designed to specifically target and improve aspects of cognitive control. Veterans complete the program twice per week for eight weeks. Symptoms will be assessed before and after treatment, as well as at a two month follow up time point. The primary goal of the study is to examine the effect of the intervention on PTSD symptoms and cognitive deficits. Evaluating symptom change as a result of the intervention will provide critical data regarding the utility of this program as a PTSD treatment. If effective, this training program could serve as alternative treatment option for Veterans with PTSD, and could be translated into an easily transportable intervention for dissemination.

A secondary goal is to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to better understand the mechanisms by which cognitive training culminates in symptom reduction. If training cognitive control with neurotherapeutics directly enhances functioning of specific neural substrates as hypothesized, improvements in affective processes relying on shared neural regions would also be predicted. Modifying functioning in these substrates with training may thus reduce symptoms by improving neural functioning while processing and managing trauma-related affect and information. Neural systems used for cognitive control targeted in the training described are also recruited when individuals mentally manipulate emotional information, such as when individuals use reappraisal to change the way that they think about negative emotional situations or content. In this study, Veterans will complete a neutral cognitive control task before and after completing the training treatment. Which will be the first study to evaluate neurobiological mechanisms of this type of training in PTSD, and the next step for understanding how to improve the training program and who may be best served by completing it.

Students who feel they are suffering from PTSD can find help here:

Hoover High Health Office