Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a big problem in the US military, affecting about 20 percent of all veterans. In women, the main cause of PTSD is sexual abuse or harassment by co-workers while on active duty, and it is common. Research suggests that up to one in four military women experience sexual assault, while more than half experience sexual harassment.
For these women, the outlook after service can be bleak, as PTSD can lead to avoidance issues, insomnia, anxiety, and depression. Physically, the symptoms range from chronic pain to obesity to cardiovascular problems.
Until now, the standard treatment for female veterans with PTSD has been Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), a scientific approach that teaches patients practical tactics to help challenge or neutralize negative thoughts related to their trauma. Regarded as the “gold standard” in the treatment of PTSD by the Ministry of Defense and the Veterans Heath Administration, the CPT has its merits, but also its faults. Researchers find that more than half of female veterans enrolled in government-backed CPT programs drop out of treatment. Half of those who have completed treatment report persistent PTSD symptoms.
But an alternative approach has emerged.
Yoga, specifically the Trauma Center Trauma-Sensitive Yoga (TCTY), targets the effects of stress on the body’s nervous system. Initiated by David Emerson of the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute, trauma-sensitive yoga is believed to relieve PTSD by creating bonds between body and mind and restoring a sense of ownership (or agency) over emotions.
However, doubts remain about its effectiveness. A groundbreaking study led by Ursula Kelly of Emory University is poised to change thinking about TYCT use.
Kelly, associate professor at the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, recently published the interim results of a large-scale five-year investigation into the effects of cognitive therapy versus trauma-sensitive yoga.
The first results tell a clear story. Working with colleagues at Emory University and the Atlanta Veteran Associate Health Care System, Kelly found empirical evidence that yoga can be just as effective as CPT in treating PTSD.
Not only that, the study shows that TYCT gives positive results considerably faster than cognitive therapy; and that over 60 percent of patients complete treatment, compared to only 34 percent of those in cognitive therapy programs.
Kelly’s study, which will be published in full later this year, analyzed the results of CPT and TYCT use in 152 female veterans diagnosed with PTSD between 2016 and 2021. Using tools As a clinical measure, she and her colleagues tracked the impact of 10 sets of weekly 60-minute yoga sessions against a control group of 12 weekly CPT sessions, each 90 minutes in duration and led by a clinician.
Researchers find that although PTSD was successfully reduced by both treatments, patients in the TYCT group began to see improvement mid-intervention. This compares favorably with the CPT group, who reported feeling better only two weeks after stopping treatment.
Kelly was chosen to address the Independent Review Board established by President Biden, which is examining how the Defense Department deals with sexual trauma in the military, later this year.
With rapid results and a low dropout rate among female yoga participants, Kelly is quick to call her a “game changer” for female veterans in the United States.
“Our study is the first of its kind to apply evidence-based research methods to truly understand the potential of trauma-sensitive yoga in treating this extremely problematic and difficult-to-treat problem,” Kelly said.
“These results are extremely interesting because they indicate an alternative to the standard approach which is not only just as effective, but potentially faster, cheaper and easier to access and respect for women, while offering the advantage. additional scalability. The results are a major development and possible change in clinical care for our veterans. “