Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Learn about other work that we are doing with service members.

PTSD is an injury like a broken arm. It is a neurobiological adaptation sustained as a result of an overwhelming or stressful event or events, and the chemistry and physiology of the brain are changed. This change need not be permanent, and, like a broken arm, is treatable. PTSD is not a mental weakness, nor is it some self-inflicted emotional problem.

A 2012 study by the Veterans Administration reveals nearly 30% of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD.  Symptoms can occur immediately, weeks, months or even years after combat experience.

Common symptoms can include difficulty sleeping, increased arousal or excitability, avoiding situations, re-experiencing events and feeling numb or detached from other people and present experiences.

With early intervention and appropriate treatment, service members can mitigate and even eliminate symptoms of PTSD. Treatment can teach service members effective coping strategies for dealing with stressful situations. 

In 2011, the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas was awarded a $3 million grant from the Department of Defense (DoD) to investigate the effectiveness of cognitive processing therapy (CPT) and an FDA-approved treatment for treatment resistant depression, called repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS), for PTSD.

CPT is an evidence-based, trauma-focused behavioral therapy designed to reduce the symptoms of PTSD and associated symptoms such as depression, anxiety, guilt, and shame. It is a structured therapy that facilitates the emotional processing of the exposure to trauma and assists the individual with developing more balanced and accurate beliefs about future experiences.

rTMS involves directing a magnetic coil over a specific part of the brain. This neurostimulation is thought to temporarily lessen the participant’s overactive physiological response before entering the CPT session.

The pairing of these modalities was in the interest of enhancing overall symptom reduction. Our research and medical team monitored each treatment. In addition, the double-blind study included EEG (brain wave) and functional MRI (fMRI) measures at the initial and final stages of treatment to evaluate treatment response. Our research team is completing the final phases of this DoD-funded study.

In 2015, the Center began investigating another form of neurostimulation in combination with cognitive processing therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder.  This no-cost, non-drug treatment is called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS).

Over the course of 12 weekly CPT sessions with a CPT-trained therapist, participants can gain emotional regulation skills that will enhance social and occupational interactions. tDCS is a non-invasive, painless form of targeted brain stimulation that uses a low direct current (1-2mA) to affect the activity of specific brain areas via electrodes on the scalp. The participant will receive a 20-minute neurostimulation session just prior to each CPT session.  The pairing of these two modalities is in the interest of enhancing overall symptom reduction.

Our research and medical team will monitor each treatment. In addition, the double-blind study includes EEG (brain wave) and functional MRI (fMRI) measures at the initial and final stages of treatment to evaluate treatment response.

This clinical trial could improve the mental and emotional well-being of veterans affected by PTSD and may also reveal a more effective strategy for treating PTSD in the general population.

BrainHealth® is a registered service mark of The University of Texas at Dallas