At USF’s College of Public Health, Dr. Kevin Kip is working hard to research alternative therapies for veterans experiencing mental health issues.
Across the nation, alternative therapies for veterans have been gaining more support, including the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, service dogs, yoga, and acupuncture to help veterans heal.
Kip, who has researched and helped establish an alternative therapy called Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART), and who is the principal investigator of two new studies happening next month, is making sure veterans are being helped right here in Florida.
On Sept. 8, 2010, Kip received $2 million dollars in funding from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center to start studying treatments for veterans and their family members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and related symptoms.
Through his research on ART, Kip has collected evidence that formally supports an effective way to treat veterans’ PTSD in an average of just three sessions.
Kip says that ART is an effective treatment, in part, because of the way the brain stores painful and visceral memories. These highly traumatic and life-or-death experiences are stored in the limbic system, which deals with the fight or flight response, because when faced with the situation again, your body needs to be able to detect danger and react immediately.
“We’re all wired to survive, and our brains are pretty darn good at it,” Kip said.
While this helps you react quickly and stay alive in combat, once you return home, however, you no longer need that same reaction, particularly to triggers of everyday life that are non-threatening.
Traditionally, PTSD is treated with cognitive processing therapy, in which clients are helped to process distressing thoughts and feelings, or prolonged exposure therapy, in which the client re-experiences thoughts, feelings, and situations of the traumatic event, rather than avoiding them.
ART is fundamentally different from both of these methods, though, because this method focuses on altering the body and memory.
A typical session of ART involves mentally reliving the original traumatic experience, identifying and reducing physical symptoms of distress that emerge, and then working to reimagine the experience with a different, positive outcome. Lateral eye movement exercises, where the client follows the clinician’s hand moving quickly from left to right, are used to help process memories and minimize the feelings of distress.
“You don’t complete a session until the client says, ‘I don’t see any of the old images, I only see the new ones,’” Kip said.
Kip said that the treatment process works because of a memory storage process called reconsolidation, which has to do with synthesis of new proteins and connections in the brain.
“If you know that there’s a window where when you bring a memory up, and it’s going to change at least a little bit anyways, why not try to really change it positively, right? When you ask the client to reimagine the way [they’d] rather remember it, you’re changing the way that it’s stored such that when they think about it in the future, it brings up the new way, not the old way,” said Kip.
On top of all of his research on ART, which was just awarded an army training contract, Kip is the principal investigator on two other alternative therapies for veterans: yoga and Brazilian jiujitsu.
Kip will be partnering with Yoga for Men, an online yoga provider based in St. Petersburg, Fla., to evaluate the effectiveness of yoga for veterans with PTSD and related symptoms, as well as co-piloting a separate study alongside Dr. Alison Willing from USF’s Morsani College of Medicine Neurology Department to evaluate the effectiveness of Brazilian jiujitsu compared to yoga.
In the Yoga for Men study, 150 participants will enroll in an online course through the Yoga for Men website, and they will be exposed to traditional hatha yoga practices as well as ten-minute mindfulness exercises at least twice a week. The study will last two years, and the participants will be evaluated on symptoms like PTSD, depression, anxiety, sleep and pain.
In the Brazilian jiujitsu study, 10 participants will be enrolled in a Brazilian jiujitsu class, another 10 participants with be enrolled in a traditional style hatha yoga class, and 5 will be enrolled in a waitlist condition. The study will last ten-weeks, with assessments taking place at the beginning, through out, and two months after the class has finished. In this study, saliva and hair cortisol levels will be measured throughout, in addition to self-report symptoms of PTSD and related conditions. Both studies are on track to begin next month.
Story by AnnaMarie Koehler-Shepley, USF College of Public Health