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New Study Shows Effective Therapy For PTSD

The study's principal investigator Dr. Alan Peterson of UT Health San Antonio.
Photo courtesy of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
Alan Peterson, Ph.D., is Director of thee STRONG STAR Consortium

The largest clinical trial testing a therapy for combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder gives hope for success in treating these psychological wounds.

Some San Antonio researchers have found the leading talk therapy for civilians with PTSD is effective for active duty military personnel, too.


The popping of fireworks, the chaos of a crowded shopping mall, and the sound of a helicopter flying overhead. While these common situations might not impact most of us in a negative way, some men and women returning from a combat zone have a different reaction, like 45-year-old Denver Missel, a former Army MP who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Credit Wendy Rigby / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
This image hangs in the office of the STRONG STAR consortium.


"I don’t like being in large crowds. I get very anxious," Missel explained. "It’s hard to do daily tasks. The nightmares…I see the faces, the bodies. I hear gunfire. I hear artillery, mortar fire. I hear all that in my sleep. It wakes me up."

Over the last 15 years, three million service members have been deployed to the Middle East. An estimated 500,000 to 600,000 of them have some degree of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It can be life-changing. Stifling.

Guilt, blame, anger, depression and sleeplessness are hallmarks. A simple trip down the street can trigger horrible memories.

"Driving in traffic. If you have been in a convoy and things have blown up, when you see a broken down car of a pile of trash on the side of the road, those things can be very difficult," saidAlan Peterson,, Ph.D.,director of STRONG STAR, a Department of Defense funded consortium based at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.

Peterson's group and co-investigators from Duke University set up a clinical trial at Fort Hood in Central Texas. 268 active duty military members with PTSD were given a 12-session treatment called Cognitive Processing Therapy or CPT. The idea is if you change your thoughts, you change your feelings.

"I knew something was wrong with me. I just didn’t know what," Missel commented.

He didn’t know what was wrong, but he knew what he’d experienced and witnessed had changed him. "I had the unfortunate opportunity to hear a young soldier in a Humvee burn alive. He was screaming over the radio," Missel remembered.

Missel said the group therapy he took part in at Fort Hood helped him change what he calls his “extreme paranoia” to a more balanced way of looking at his present life.

"I just try to remember where I’m at. I’m in America," Missel described. "You know, tell myself that I’m not there. I’m here. Take some deep breaths."

The research team found that nearly half of those who received individual CPT and nearly 40 percent of those receiving the therapy in a group recovered. Plus, it reduced depression and suicidal thoughts.

"What people believe results in how people feel and act. So we work over time to help people have more accurate beliefs," Peterson said.

The findings are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry. Peterson said he expects the military to engage in the CPT protocol on a more regular basis now that there is clinical proof it’s effective.

​STRONG STAR is recruiting for a variety of studies in San Antonio and in the Fort Hood area. For more information, call (210) 562-6726 or log on to the STRONG STAR treatment website.

Wendy Rigby is a San Antonio native who has worked as a journalist for more than 25 years. She spent two decades at KENS-TV covering health and medical news. Now, she brings her considerable background, experience and passion to Texas Public Radio.