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Veterans on Prolonged Exposure Therapy for PTSD

DECEMBER 18, 2017 | 5-minute read

Prolonged exposure therapy is a treatment for PTSD that is clinically proven to provide symptom relief and other long-term benefits.

Linda, a combat trauma nurse in the U.S. Army and Air Force
Linda, a combat trauma nurse

The therapy empowers Veterans to work through painful memories in a safe, supportive environment, enabling them to participate in activities they have been avoiding because of the trauma. Throughout treatment, patients learn about PTSD: its causes, symptoms, and the reasons why they are experiencing symptoms.

If you show signs of PTSD, you don’t have to just live with it. Professional treatment like prolonged exposure therapy can help you understand your thoughts and reactions and teach you techniques for coping with stressful situations.

Thousands of Veterans have learned to overcome their symptoms of PTSD through prolonged exposure therapy. Continue reading below to hear two Veterans’ firsthand accounts of receiving the treatment, and discover how it improved their lives.

“It was the foundation for me getting better.”

As a combat nurse in the U.S. Army and Air Force, Linda witnessed many traumatic events. “When you’re in that war zone, you’re focused on your mission, and you don’t allow yourself to take in what you’re seeing,” she says. “I hid a lot of my emotions.”

Linda had symptoms of PTSD, like sleeping problems that turned into nightmares and isolation that turned into burying herself in work as a distraction. When she connected with a professional who was trained in trauma therapy, she was introduced to prolonged exposure therapy.

“For me, prolonged exposure is looking at a few of those traumatic experiences. You kind of go back in time in a way, and you reprocess that memory,” says Linda. “You take it very slowly and record it. And my homework at night was to listen to that recording several times a day.”

For many Veterans like Linda, it may be difficult to talk about the details of your trauma at first. These feelings are usually brief, and people tend to feel better as they continue the therapy. “It was really tough, but it worked,” she says.

The effects of treatment had a lasting impact on Linda’s life. “I was able to remember things more, be more out in public,” she says. “I was more aware of what triggered me and how to manage those triggers. … It basically was the foundation for me getting better.”

“I probably wouldn’t be here had I not done the therapy.”

For Steven, an Army Veteran who served in Iraq, a blowout fight with his wife was the sign that he needed to reach out for treatment. “When you realize that it’s not you, you need to get help,” he says.

Steven met with a psychologist and they began doing prolonged exposure therapy to help treat his PTSD symptoms.

“The psychologist would sit there and go through very detailed questions to have you remember very detailed things about the past,” he explains. “You’re recording the whole thing, so the next thing you do after the session is take the recording home and you would listen to it. By having you repeat the story and [listen] to it, it would take the situation and create some form of normalcy.

“It’s a very intense therapy,” Steven says, “but it’s by far one of the most important, because I probably wouldn’t be here had I not done the therapy.”

Visit VA’s National Center for PTSD’s website for more information and resources on prolonged exposure therapy.

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