Health & Safety

August 3, 2012

DOD, VA release mobile app targeting post-traumatic stress

WASHINGTON (AFNS) — The Defense and Veterans Affairs departments have released a free Apple and Android smartphone mobile application for use with post-traumatic stress disorder treatment.

The app is called PE Coach; PE stands for “prolonged exposure.”

Psychologists at the Defense Department’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology, known as T2, and the VA National Center for PTSD developed the mobile app to help patients with their therapy. Both departments use prolonged exposure therapy as an effective treatment for PTSD.

“PE Coach is a helpful tool that assists our service members and veterans who are between visits and in treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. “We have shared this app with our military health care providers as well, and hope that many individuals who are receiving PE therapy will find it useful.”

Prolonged exposure therapy helps a patient process a trauma memory to reduce the distress and avoidance caused by the trauma. The patient revisits the memory with a therapist, and as he or she emotionally processes the memory, anxiety decreases. The therapy also helps the patient confront situations that trigger memories of the trauma.

Brian Sullivan, a veteran who has been using PE Coach in its testing phase during his VA therapy, said in an interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service that he finds the application helpful.

“It allows you to keep track of your therapy sessions as they’re going on,” he said. “It allows you to record the whole session. It allows you to take notes after the session, and … it allows you to do homework … before your next session.”

Sullivan said the app also offers breathing exercises to help in managing anxiety.

“You have to have a positive attitude going into the therapy using the application. … (The app) will allow you to go back over the session yourself, and listen to it again, and … help jog your memory … in case you forgot something that happened,” he said.

“We worked with a broad and diverse group of psychologists in the DOD and VA who are treating PTSD patients with prolonged exposure therapy,” said Dr. Greg Reger, clinical psychologist in T2’s innovative technology applications division. “We wanted to help our patients in the therapy and make it easier for providers to deliver this treatment. PE Coach does both.”

Patients install PE Coach on their smartphones and can record therapy sessions for playback between the sessions. The app also provides an explanation of exposure therapy, assignments, explanations of PTSD and its symptoms, and a convenient way to write notes about typically avoided locations, situations and events for later discussions with the therapist.

Reger said writing in a notebook in public places makes many people feel uncomfortable, but tapping out a note on a smartphone makes it easier to capture in-the-moment feelings.

PE Coach is designed to help users stick to prolonged exposure treatment, which could improve the treatment’s effectiveness, Reger said. It was not designed to be used as a self-help tool, he added, and should not replace professional counseling.

The Defense Department and VA released a similar mobile application last year. Called PTSD Coach, it’s a reference tool for education, tracking symptoms, self-assessments and connections to support individuals with PTSD.

The National Center for Telehealth and Technology at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., serves as the primary Defense Department office for cutting-edge approaches in applying technology to psychological health.

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