Psychological Services Center opens new Post Traumatic Stress Disorder treatment program
It is a Thursday night at the University of Massachusetts, also known to most UMass students as the beginning of the weekend.
Outside the Amherst bars, an intoxicated student stumbles past a man who struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]. As the student reaches into his pocket to call his friend for a safe ride home, the man with PTSD may experience what Dr. Frank Gallo, a clinician and former police officer working in the University of Massachusetts Psychological Services Center [PSC], calls a “hypersensitivity to threat.”
The above hypothetical situation is not intended to profile those dealing with the challenges of PTSD in any way, but is intended instead to highlight one of its symptoms. According to clinical psychologist and Director of PSC Dr. Christopher Overtree, the PSC is conducting “research-based interventions” to alleviate and lessen many of the symptoms of PTSD as part of their new treatment program.
The PTSD symptoms being addressed by the PSC are experiences of hyper vigilance in non-threatening environments, flashbacks and nightmares, and attempts to avoid thinking about or experiencing anything related to the incident causing the trauma.
According to Overtree, evidence or research-based treatment comes from the idea that controlled clinical research has determined that the treatment approach of using an exposure model is effective in reducing PTSD symptoms. The exposure treatment involves “treating [a patient’s] anxiety at a gradual and comfortable pace that encourages the client to think, talk and imagine about their traumatic experience so that they can reduce their bodily and emotional reaction to the experience,” said Overtree.
“Patients have stated that [the treatment] has been quite effective,” said Overtree. “The clinic is also engaged in psychotherapy research in hopes to add to the body of evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of psychotherapy in the treatment of all mental health conditions.”
The program launched in October of this year, but concrete plans for its creation had been developing since this past summer.
“We’re not expecting an influx of people to join the program immediately,” said Overtree. “We’re hoping to expand the availability of these kinds of services so people have more options and choices.”
Although its services are open the general public, the PSC’s PTSD treatment program, according to a release sent by Overtree, is primarily concerned with focusing on individuals “with experiences living or working in high-risk environments” for PTSD.
Individuals considered to have been exposed to high-risk environments “refers to those people who have worked in military, law enforcement, firefighting and other areas of public safety,” said Overtree.
“From speaking to my police colleagues, I know that one of the major issues with police chiefs and police officers is that many officers who come back from active service overseas in Afghanistan or Iraq have trouble integrating back into domestic policing,” said Gallo.
Gallo explained that the program is to help ease the transition for many officers who came back from military life overseas to domestic police work.
According to a release, one out of every eight returning veterans experience symptoms of PTSD, beginning after the experience of a traumatic event.
“We didn’t explicitly look to only hire clinicians with military or police backgrounds,” said Overtree, “but we were able to recruit clinicians and post-doctoral fellows who had military experience. We put together their interests into this program. We are particularly lucky to have Bill Matthews, who was willing to serve as a supervisor for this program and is a veteran of the Vietnam War.”
According to Gallo, there is a perceived “good match” that occurs to someone when they are speaking with someone who is already familiar with the culture being discussed. The training the PSC’s program offers its clinicians involves giving non-military personnel or police officers details about the types of struggles and duties involved with such jobs.
“One of the things we are working on educating our clinicians is that of police and military culture,” said Gallo. “This is beneficial because, for example, I’m a former police officer and if we had a police officer looking to speak with someone about issues around PTSD, that person might find a sense of familiarity between himself and me because he knows I’ve been a police officer and I probably know the kinds of issues he might be struggling with on and off of the job.”
The center is located in UMass’ Tobin Hall, Suite 123. Individuals interested in the center’s PTSD program should call for a free initial screening. Treatment fees are on a sliding scale that is based on a person’s income.
“I think that it is important that people recognize that being in a university setting is in itself a difficult and challenging experience,” said Overtree. “The reason we have a program like this is to be able to help our service men and women return to this educational environment regardless of what their individual military experience was like.”
Overtree is also a UMass professor who teaches a section of the abnormal psychology classes offered at the University.
Alyssa Creamer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.