DoD, VA release mobile app for PTSD therapy

By Erin McCann
10:23 AM

A new mobile application aimed at helping both service members and veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been released, officials at the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs announced on Tuesday. 

Officials from both departments say the PE (prolonged exposure) Coach, a free smartphone application created for individuals with PTSD, is one of many therapy tools that will help effectively treat disorder symptoms affecting service members. 

The mobile app was designed by psychologists at the DoD’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2), and the VA National Center for PTSD, with the specific aim of helping patients with therapy in between clinical sessions.

[See also: VETS Act seeks to increase access to telemedicine for veterans.]

"PE Coach is a helpful tool that assists our service members and veterans who are between visits and in treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder," said Jonathon Woodson, MD, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. "We have shared this app with our military healthcare providers as well, and hope that many individuals who are receiving PE therapy will find it useful."

Officials say PE therapy helps a patient process a traumatic memory to eventually reduce the distress and avoidance caused by that 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, department officials added. 

[See also: DoD awards $9M for app support.]

"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 Greg Reger, MD, clinical psychologist in T2's 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 providing prolonged exposure therapy acknowledge it could be more effective if patients could better adhere to their assignments between sessions.

The patient downloads PE Coach on their smartphone and can record the therapy session for playback between the sessions. 

Officials say 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 made many people feel uncomfortable. However, tapping a note on a smartphone has shown to be easier to capture those in-the-moment feelings.

DoD and VA officials expect the PE Coach will help users successfully adhere to PE treatment, which could improve the quality of the treatment. Reger said the app was not designed as a self-help tool and should not replace professional counseling.

[See also: VA and DoD to launch integrated healthcare IT system.]

The DoD and VA released the similar PTSD Coach mobile application last year. The app is a reference tool for education, tracking symptoms, self-assessments and connections to support individuals with PTSD.

PE Coach is available for both iOS and Android mobile devices. More information about the app can be found here