Innovative USF program helps combat vets deal with PTSD

Holiday, FL -- As the investigation into the latest shooting at Ft. Hood unfolds, we're once again hearing the words "post-traumatic stress". It has become a growing concern as more and more combat veterans return from active duty.

An innovative therapy program being studied right here in the Bay Area at the University of South Florida may help.

It's already made a big difference in the life of Brian Anderson, who returned to the Bay Area after four years of military duty as a green beret. When he did, Anderson, like an estimated 15% - 20% of combat veterans, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress.

"I started having issues," he said.

Panic attacks. Visions of buddies killed in combat.

"I would also wash the dishes and I would imagine a bullet going through my head," said Anderson.

Anderson then found an innovative research program at the University of South Florida called Accelerated Resolution Therapy.

The program drastically reduces the number of therapy sessions, and the pain associated with recounting events that lead to PTSD.

"What it did is stop the images from evading me in the here and now," said Anderson.

Here's how it works:

Participants in ART are asked to re-live painful memories by playing them back like a movie in their minds. But unlike other therapy methods, they are not required to speak about it.

As the images come flooding back, heart rates, perspiration and respiration increase.

"And through a series of left right eyes movements, we're able to first separate and quiet down the physiological response that happens when you think about something really traumatic," said Dr. Kevin Kip.

Kip, who oversees the USF study, says participants are then asked to replace those traumatic memories with a different version. A way they'd rather remember the experience.

It's a survival mechanism, says Kip, called re-consolidation.

"So if your comrades were killed, maybe the firefight never happened. Or they were wounded and taken away to safety or for medical treatment," explained Kip.

During the memory re-programming, the same REM-like eye movements take place.

The study, now in its fourth year, is showing positive results.

The fewer number of necessary therapy sessions helps reduce the dropout rate, which is high in more traditional therapies.

The non-verbal aspect not only appeals to those who find it hard to talk about, but also gives those who are perhaps sworn to secrecy an avenue of therapy as well.

"We owe it to our service members and veterans," said Kip, "So, I'm encouraged."

Combat veterans facing issues related to post-traumatic stress who want to learn more about the ART program are encouraged to reach-out to USF.

For more information, contact Sue Ann Girling at (813) 629-6159 email:, or Trudy Wittenberg at (813) 597-8577 email: twittenb@health.usf.ed


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