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Counseling Psychology News

UW's Wampold speaks with about controversial PTSD treatment

July 23, 2015

An important and intriguing recent article looking at the "gold standard" treatment for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) uses the expertise of UW-Madison's Bruce Wampold to examine why this course of action may be problematic.

Bruce Wampold mug
Wampold is the Patricia L. Wolleat Professor of Counseling Psychology at UW-Madison, and is the director of the Research Institute at Modum Bad Psychiatric Center in Vikersund, Norway. He is the author of the groundbreaking 2001 publication, “The Great Psychotherapy Debate.” The second edition of this book was published earlier this year.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), a world leader in PTSD research, spends more money than any other organization to treat veterans with PTSD, explains. Since 2006, The VA has been treating veterans with a therapy known as prolonged exposure (PE). The veteran is asked to recount his or her worst trauma repeatedly until it no longer produced feelings of fear or anxiety. reports that this treatment typically lasts eight weeks, and according to the deputy consultant for mental health care standards at the VA, 60 percent of veterans who undergo this treatment see some improvement 

According to the article, “The problem with prolonged exposure is that it also has made a number of veterans violent, suicidal, and depressed, and it has a dropout rate that some researchers put at more than 50 percent, the highest dropout rate of any PTSD therapy has been widely studied so far.” explains how a 1991 study conducted by Edna Foa, a clinical psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, fathered prolonged exposure as a form of therapy used to treat victims of sexual abuse. The study compared the effectiveness of prolonged exposure to the effectiveness of stress inoculation training (STI) on sexual abuse victims. It found prolonged exposure to be most effective in the long term.

When approached by about Foa’s 1991 study and its applicability to veterans with PTSD, Wampold explained that the two types of trauma are very different.

“The patients were sexual abuse victims, not military trauma patients," Wampold tells "But for me, the worst issue of that trial was the comparison treatment: A treatment clearly intended to fail. The ‘supportive’ therapists could only respond warmly; the patients were not allowed to talk about their trauma, were directed to talk about other current problems, and were given no therapeutic actions intended to help them. No decent therapist would ever treat a victim of rape in that way.

But make sure and check out the full report here.

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