Improving the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder: A controlled evaluation of a new behavioural treatment

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common consequence of life-threatening traumatic events (e.g., road traffic collisions, military combat, criminal victimization). PTSD is a severe anxiety disorder that often follows a chronic course and is associated with significant disablement. Existing PTSD treatments are only moderately effective and research is needed to find interventions that can improve treatment outcome. One potential method of improving treatment outcome for PTSD is by reducing anxiety sensitivity, which is described as a person’s fear of experiencing the physical sensations that result from anxiety (e.g. heart palpitations, dizziness) and their belief that these sensations will have harmful consequences. Anxiety sensitivity is elevated in PTSD and is associated with PTSD symptom severity. Interventions that directly target anxiety sensitivity have the potential to enhance PTSD treatment outcome. Dr. Jaye Wald is conducting the first controlled study to examine the effectiveness of interoceptive exposure therapy (IE) on PTSD. While this behavioural intervention has been shown to be effective in treating anxiety disorders, its ability to improve the outcome of existing PTSD treatments has not yet been investigated. Dr. Wald will use IE to repeatedly expose individuals to feared bodily sensations, with the goal of eventually reducing their anxiety sensitivity. Results of this research will have important practical implications for the mental health care field and for individuals with PTSD by enhancing understanding of this disorder and ultimately improving its treatment.