Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is like a terrible echo of life-threatening events from the past. Its sufferers–and there are thousands of them across military and civilian life alike–can become haunted by memories of moments when they or their loved ones were faced with grave danger.
It can leave them unable to sleep, feeling detached or isolated from the world around them, easily startled or irritated, and, in some cases, subject to intense flashbacks that make the sufferer feel like the event is happening again.
Despite those horrors, PTSD, as it is commonly known, is treatable. One of the most successful treatments is based around talk therapy, or psychotherapy, which relies on regular, guided conversation.
In an effort to make those conversations more accessible to veterans, one former-soldier-turned-psychologist is incorporating video conferencing into PTSD treatment. His use of teletherapy for PTSD could pave the way for sufferers to receive treatment without leaving their homes and improve early detection of the disorder.
Teletherapy for PTSD
The veteran in question is Blake Schroedter, whose 17 years in the military included tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, he is the head clinical psychologist of a new program at Rush University Chicago called Road Home aimed at helping veterans cope with the symptoms of PTSD and other mental health issues.
Dr. Schroedter started the program in part because of his own difficulties transitioning back to civilian life after years of service. He recently told the Shelbyville Daily Union that veterans need to be given time to decompress and process their combat experiences once they return home.
To aid that process, the Road Home program offers an intensive trauma program every month. Dr. Schroedter’s group invites 12 veterans from all over the country to attend and treats and houses them at no cost.
Importantly, the initial contact between the Rush team and potential patients is over video conference. In Dr. Schroeder’s own words, video helps break down barriers that would otherwise prevent veterans from seeking help and saves both time and money.
Unfortunately, due to legal telemedicine restrictions, the program itself cannot be conducted over video conference from outside its home state, but there is hope that could change.
Veterans’ Affairs Video Conferencing
Over the course of an hour-long, face-to-face video conference, the Rush University team can assess a potential patient’s mental health and determine their suitability for the Road Home program.
That efficient way of bringing together a remotely located expert and a person in need is possible due to video conferencing’s ability to recreate the in-person experience over a distance. Scientific studies in other areas of medicine have proven that remote treatment over video can be as effective as an in-person visit–VC Daily has previously highlighted studies into remote treatment for addiction, anxiety, and phobias.
The success of those studies makes it a greater shame that the Road Home program can’t currently be made available outside of Illinois.
If it were run under the banner of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, however, it would be open to all. The Department’s public status grants it an exemption, and it has been a strong supporter of telemedicine–in 2016 the VA spent $1.2 billion on telemedicine research and delivery.
Perhaps Dr. Schroedter’s combined work in teletherapy assessment and the Road Home project itself could encourage the VA to follow suit with its own version. And, seeing as PTSD also affects the civilian population, his work could be incorporated into existing commercially available teletherapy sites.
Online Video Therapy Anonymity
The chief asset that video conferencing provides the medical field is accessibility. That’s true in both a physical sense–people in remote areas need only a webcam and a laptop to potentially reach expert medical opinions the world over–and in an emotional sense. The ability to seek help from the privacy of your own home, and to do so at a time that fits your lifestyle, offers a degree of anonymity that a trip the local clinic can’t provide.
Given that most cases of PTSD in the civilian world stem from childhood trauma and deeply personal events such as sexual assault, sufferers may be more open to seeking help if they can do so on their own terms.
Dr. Schroedter is already assessing people online, and web-based counseling services such as TalkSpace offer wholly virtual therapy that builds from text to face-to-face meetings.
We are still learning how the digital communication technologies of today can best be deployed in the healthcare field, but their core function of bringing people together over time and distance offers a unique access point to deeply sensitive issues.