PTSD therapy offered to army by Ministry of Defence

The Ministry of Defence has awarded a three year contract to offer a relatively unknown psychological therapy to help service personnel with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Known as EMDR it's one of two therapies recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence for PTSD.

The other is the more well known Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Latest figures show almost 4,000 service men and women - 2% of the armed forces - were diagnosed with mental health problems last year alone.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is thought to work best for people whose trauma involves a visual image, making it a good candidate for helping those who have been in armed combat.

Battle scars

Army Veteran 'Arthur' joined the army when he was 18 and is the 6th generation of his family to be in the forces. He served in a number of war zones including Cyprus, and Northern Ireland.

"I was trained as a sniper, and on one duty I was tasked to take on an enemy sniper. There were two people who we could observe. I received the order to shoot and I shot the sniper. Then, unfortunately the person that was with him took the weapon, and it appeared to all concerned he was going to use the weapon, so I shot him as well. He turned out to be a 14 year old boy."

Arthur, which is not his real name, eventually had a breakdown, split up with his wife, lost touch with children and tried to kill himself. He was then diagnosed with PTSD triggered by a series of traumatic events.

He said: "I went to my first bomb explosion that involved human casualties. In many cases we, as soldiers, were asked to go with the black bag, pick up as many bits and pieces of people as we could, and collect them together so that the professionals could then deal with them.

"The only advice or words of comfort I was given was 'don't you dare throw up'."

Dr Robin Logie is a clinical psychologist and President of the EMDR Association UK and Ireland. He admits when he first heard about it he thought it was 'implausible mumbo jumbo'.

But after training as a practitioner a decade ago, he is now convinced by its benefits.

Implausible mumbo jumbo?

"What happens in EMDR is that the therapist asks the individual to think about the worst aspect of what occurred. Whilst doing that, they ask them to move their eyes from side to side, or use some other form of what's called bilateral stimulation, which is basically in order to stimulate the two sides of the brain alternately."

Image caption It is thought rapid eye movement may help block unwanted visual or auditory memories of stressful events

Experts are not sure why this might work, or how, but believe it somehow blocks the harrowing sounds, smells and images that can haunt a person after a traumatic event.

Jane Steare is the mother of British woman Lucie Blackman who was murdered in Japan in 2000. Lucie's dismembered body was found in a cave and Jane says despite the passage of time she could not stop focussing on the truly horrific details of her daughter's death.

"The thought of somebody doing such an horrific thing to her, was just a terrible, terrible trauma. I just kept imagining how he did it. I just kept thinking about it and I couldn't stop thinking about it. If it hadn't been for EMDR I think I would have gone totally totally mad.

"The therapist asked me what would make me feel better. I said well, if Lucie was safe, that would make me feel better. So I followed his fingers with my eyes and all the time kept thinking 'she's safe she's safe'. I had four sessions. And it's absolutely amazing that as soon as I start thinking about it this voice comes into my head saying 'she's safe'."

No panacea

Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Morgan O'Connell was a Surgeon Captain in the Royal Navy serving for 31 years including time in the South Atlantic during the Falklands War.

At first he was sceptical but changed his mind when he began to see patients who had benefited and now has no hesitation in referring some patients.

But he warns EMDR is not a panacea.

"You also have to be careful treating people with EMDR who have a history of major depression or who are significantly depressed. In a very small, but significant percentage of people, there is a risk of unmasking a latent psychosis."

The Ministry of Defence's new contract aims to train more than 50 mental health professionals over the next three years to carry out EMDR.

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