PHILADELPHIA – A team of researchers led by Edna Foa PhD, professor of Clinical Psychology in Psychiatry and director of the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety (CTSA) at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania , has received a $7.7 million grant from the Department of Defense (DoD) to study the most effective way to implement Prolonged Exposure therapy, an effective and efficient treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among mental health practitioners who treat soldiers suffering from this disorder.

Prolonged Exposure (PE), developed by Dr. Foa, is the most empirically supported therapy for PTSD; in 8-15 sessions the vast majority of patients treated with PE show substantial reduction in severity of PTSD and related psychiatric problems. “Thousands of mental health professionals in the U.S. and abroad have been taught how to deliver PE to their PTSD patients,” said Dr. Foa. “But questions remain about whether providing supervision to clinicians after they have completed a training workshop in PE increases their ability to effectively use the newly learned therapy in their clinical practice.” 

With an estimated 14 percent of U.S. military personnel returning from war with PTSD, it is critical to have an extensive force of well-trained mental health professionals available to support these soldiers. “Unfortunately, there is a limited availability of clinicians who have been effectively trained at using evidence based therapies that we know are most likely to help these patients,” said Carmen McLean, PhD , assistant professor of Clinical Psychology in Psychiatry and co-investigator of the new study. “We need to determine the most effective and efficient ways to train these mental health professionals in PE so they can make the biggest impact for the men and women coming back from combat.”

In the new study, Foa and her colleagues at the CTSA will compare two different PE-training models: Minimal-PE training which consists of an intensive four-day PE workshop, and Comprehensive-PE training, which consists of an intensive PE workshop combined with supervision by PE experts. Four Army installations, with 25 therapists in-training at each site, will be randomly assigned to receive either the Minimal-PE or the Comprehensive-PE training.  Clinicians will be compared on the proportion of PTSD patients to whom they provide PE, therapist satisfaction with, and confidence in delivering PE, and reduction in PTSD and related symptoms in PTSD patients that they treat.

The new study will help identify which of the two models yields superior training for providers while at the same time ensuring sustainability of implementation and maintenance of treatment quality and adherence.

“We’re hopeful that the results of this research will inform efforts not only in military settings but also in the public sector in general,” Foa said.

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