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It is very unfortunate that many men and women who serve combat in the military come home suffering with a stress disorder. Soldiers in combat are typically educated on worst-case scenarios and how to act on them, but once the soldiers are physically in a situation where there are casualties and extreme chaos everything they have been taught might fly out of their head and they are stuck with flight or fight instincts. Most people cannot even fathom what it is like to watch civilians, friends, and even themselves get injured or killed unless they were there in the action.
Although, it is easy for some people to say “oh if I was in combat I would have a lot of fun killing bad guys! I am tough and can take it all.”, but if they haven’t experienced combat then they cannot speak for how they definitely would act. Stressful events can change people and they can do things that they never would have pictured themselves doing.
This can cause serious regret and lead to posttraumatic stress disorder.
Numerous people have shared that “[b]ehavioral exposure techniques… have helped reduce specific symptoms, and they have often led to improvements in overall adjustment… In fact, some studies indicate that exposure treatment is the single most helpful intervention for persons with posttraumatic stress disorder” (Comer 151). One specific exposure therapy that is useful for treating combat veterans who suffer from stress disorders is virtual exposure, where a client puts a device on their head that covers their eyes and gives them a new view of an environment that they are familiar with.
Typically, the exposure therapist shows the environments that the client developed the stress disorder from, but they gradually display a lot of the specific triggers that the client has. For example, a veteran who is suffering from PTSD and is in virtual exposure therapy might be looking through the virtual reality device and view a realistic sight of them in a tank driving down a dirt path in the middle of a city. At first, it is slow and not chaotic, so the veteran isn’t too triggered yet, but then the tank abruptly stops and there is the first sound of a gunshot. The veteran might tense up and panic, but they will be in a safe space with their therapist and can explain every thought they are experiencing. Exposure treatment can be difficult for sufferers of PTSD because of how real the therapy sessions feel. The client is encouraged to face their fears and relive their traumas to try to help understand them and how to properly treat them.
Another treatment that has been successful for many combat veterans is drug therapy. It has been proposed that “[a]mong veterans with PTSD, as diagnosed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, 89% are treated with SSRIs” (Alexander, 2012). SSRIs stand for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors and they are a type of antidepressant that is used for depression and sometimes even anxiety disorders. This type of antidepressant works by intensifying the jobs of nerve cells in the brain that control emotion. The nerve cells have three jobs and they are to obtain signals, to move those signals, and to bring those signals in this case to the brain. Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers that deliver the signals that the nerve cells are in control of and one of the most important neurotransmitters in the case of depression and anxiety is serotonin. SSRIs assist by making more serotonin obtainable by stalling the reuptake course, thus helping to regulate mood, sleep, and even memory. Both “[s]ertraline and paroxetine are the only antidepressants approved by the FDA for the treatment of PTSD and are the most extensively studied SSRIs for this indication” (Alexander, 2012). In order to get drug therapy a patient must first go to a psychiatrist and make an appointment. Then the patient will have to complete some tests and use those tests and the patient explaining their symptoms/why they made the appointment, the doctor will make a diagnosis and see if the patient will benefit from drug therapy. In many cases, the psychiatrist will recommend to their patient to also be in talk therapy to help them further.
One more treatment that has been found successful in treating combat veterans experiencing stress disorders is cognitive-behavioral therapy. This therapy “…is considered to have the strongest evidence for reducing the symptoms of PTSD in veterans and has been shown to be more effective than any other nondrug treatment” (Reisman, 2016). CBT typically focuses on particular issues the client is having and the therapist uses a goal-oriented method to help them. Some of the treatment techniques that happens in CBT is that the “…clinicians often try to help veterans bring out deep-seated feelings, accept what they have done and experienced, become less judgmental of themselves, and learn to trust other people once again” (Comer 153). Often times the therapist will give their client homework related to the client’s distresses, whether that be to just observe their behaviors and thoughts and write them in a journal, or to practice techniques to help them relax when anxious. Once the client recognizes their negative thoughts and feelings then they can try to change their thinking patterns with the help of the therapist. An example of CBT session for a combat veteran could go like this: the therapist asks the client how their week has been going and how they felt. Based off what the client says, such as “It was awful. I had several flashbacks of losing my best friend due to the grenade.” Then the therapist might help the client figure out a lot of possible triggers to these flashbacks or teach them grounding techniques, which includes all of the five senses to encourage you to come back to the present.
All three of these treatments have the potential to help sufferers of stress disorders. Each treatment mentioned is not guaranteed to help, but it is definitely worth a shot to ease the pain. If a combat veteran tries one treatment, such as drug therapy, and it doesn’t help then they should not give up. Sometimes it takes a few different treatment choices to find the right match, but once the client finds the right treatment it can help them tremendously and change their outlook on life.
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