Science and Technology News

Sunday, August 12, 2012

PE COACH Mobile App Supports Prolonged Exposure Therapy


By Robyn Mincher
DCOE Strategic Communications

The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs (DoD/VA) have released “PE Coach,” a smartphone mobile application for use with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatment.

PE Coach is a form of “prolonged exposure” therapy available to all past and present service members — including the more than 10,000 Wisconsin Soldiers and Airmen who have deployed since 9/11 — as a way to help diagnos and treat symptoms of PTSD.

“As technology grows – our ability to find new ways to get information out to our service members and their families needs to grow as well. This new technology is another great tool for our service members and their families to use while transitioning back into their normal routines following a mobilization.” said Vicki Cushman Edgren, director of the Wisconsin National Guard Badger Yellow Ribbon program.

“In addition to our three phases of reintegration, PE Coach can be a valuable tool for our Soldiers and Airmen to use when returning from deployment and beyond. It especially speaks to the younger generation who already utilize phone apps in many other areas of their lives,” she continued.

Both the DoD and DVA use prolonged exposure (PE) therapy as an effective treatment for PTSD.

Psychologists at the Defense Department’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology, known as T2, and VA National Center for PTSD, developed the mobile app to specifically help patients with their therapy.

“‘PE Coach’ is a helpful tool that assists our service members and veterans who are between visits and in treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder,” said Dr. Jonathon 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 the memory is emotionally processed, anxiety decreases. The therapy also helps the patient confront avoided situations that trigger memories of the trauma.

“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 with the T2 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.”

Many psychologists who provide prolonged exposure therapy acknowledge it could be more effective if patients could better adhere to their assignments between sessions.

The patient installs “PE Coach” on their smartphone and can record the therapy session for playback between 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 their therapist.

Reger said that writing in a notebook in public places may make people feel uncomfortable. However, tapping a note on a smartphone is much easier and a more personal way to capture those in-the-moment feelings.

“PE Coach” will help users successfully adhere to PE treatment, which could improve the quality of treatment. Reger said it was not designed to be used as a self-help tool and should not replace professional counseling.

The Defense Department and VA released a similar mobile app last year; “PTSD Coach” is a reference tool for education, tracking symptoms, self-assessments and connections to support individuals with PTSD.

“PE Coach” is available for Apple and Android mobile devices. Find more information about the app at t2health.org/apps/pe-coach.

The National Center for Telehealth and Technology, located at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., serves as the primary Department of Defense office for cutting-edge approaches in applying technology to psychological health. More information about T2 is at t2health.org.

T2, a Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury center, designs, tests and evaluates available and emerging technologies in support of psychological health and traumatic brain injury recovery for service members, veterans and their families. To learn more, read “About T2.”

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