The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has awarded a four-year partnership project grant to Phoenix Australia to work in collaboration with the Department of Defence and Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) on world-leading research to improve posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatment.
PTSD is a serious and disabling disorder associated with high levels of distress, reduced quality of life, and poor familial, social and vocational functioning. Over one million Australians a year suffer from PTSD. Within the Australian military community, rates of 8% in currently serving Defence personnel and up to 20% in veterans deployed to combat and peacekeeping operations have been reported.
The ‘gold standard’ evidence-based PTSD treatment is prolonged exposure therapy (PE). PE involves systematically addressing the traumatic memories in a controlled and safe environment in order to reduce the associated fear and modify interpretations of the event that are impeding recovery. Standard PE requires weekly treatment for 10 weeks, which can pose a barrier to treatment uptake for some military personnel (for whom 10-week windows of availability between training activities, deployments and postings may be rare), as well as for veterans and other civilian populations (for whom life demands and stressors intrude into treatment attendance).
This project will identify whether a modified, intensive form of PE (IPE) that delivers the treatment over 10 days in a two week period can obtain similar outcomes to standard PE. If its efficacy can be demonstrated, IPE would overcome many of the barriers to the provision of, and access to, this evidence-based treatment of choice for PTSD. It would become an invaluable additional treatment option for veteran and military personnel, as well as for PTSD sufferers across the Australian community.
Professor David Forbes, Director of Phoenix Australia and the project’s Chief Investigator, said, “This will be a world-first trial of daily, compared with weekly, PE for military personnel and veterans with PTSD. The findings will directly influence DVA and Defence policy, as well as the day-to-day practice of clinicians nationwide”.
The ministerial media release can be read here.