Military Benefits

Collaboration is the key to getting effective PTSD treatments to veterans

Finding effective treatments for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder has been a challenge for the mental health community. Outside of a handful of medications and a few talk therapies, treatment choices for veterans are limited. And that's if they can tolerate them.

Many veterans who are prescribed medication quit because of the side effects. As you might expect, reduced sex drive and the inability to achieve an orgasm — common side effects of approved PTSD medications — can be quite troubling for a service member in the prime of life. And we're gaining more insight about the inability of many troops to tolerate the intensity of trauma-focused talk therapies such as exposure therapy. 

The availability and tolerability issues associated with traditional PTSD treatments have spawned considerable interest in alternative therapies. In past columns, I've written about the popularity of techniques such as yoga, transcendental meditation, and equine therapy. I've even covered entire organizations such as Boulder Crest Retreat, a civilian, nonprofit group dedicated to these types of therapies.  

So why are these alternative and nontraditional treatments still considered alternative and nontraditional? It’s simple — lack of evidence.

New therapies, regardless of how innovative and cutting-edge they are, must be backed by hard data before they’re accepted into mainstream health care. This is for good reason. Before introducing a new treatment to the public, we need to be sure that it’s safe and effective.

Although the need for therapies and programs to be backed by science is important, it prevents effective treatments from reaching those most in need in a timely manner.

Scientifically assessing the merits of a new therapy or program can take many years and a substantial financial investment. For example, a randomized clinical trial is considered the "gold standard" when it comes to clinical research. However, this type of study can cost hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to complete. The reality is that few organizations outside of universities or the government have the finances to fund such an endeavor.

There is a solution. Private and public sector collaboration is the key to bringing safe and effective therapies and programs to the market in a timely manner. We need a marriage between the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of our private citizens and the funding and accountability of our government. This is our best chance at solving the current mental health crisis our veterans and country faces.

Bret A. Moore, Psy.D., is a board-certified clinical psychologist who served two tours in Iraq. Email questions to him at kevlarforthemind@militarytimes.com. This column is for informational purposes only and is not intended to convey specific psychological or medical guidance.

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