Sufferers diagnosed with both post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and serious mental illness are receiving the treatment from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ)-University Behavioral HealthCare. They are part of a study involving a new treatment approach for individuals with PTSD and serious mental illness such as major depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
Steven Silverstein, Ph.D, director and Stephanie Marcello, Ph.D, both of the Division of Schizophrenia Research, are implementing the new therapy, which is based on principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy.
The treatment process includes relaxation training, helpful information about how stress causes the symptoms, and ‘cognitive restructuring’ or techniques that people learn to help replace anxiety-arousing thoughts with more realistic appraisals about themselves and the level of danger in their environments. Treatment is closely coordinated with clients’ clinicians.
UMDNJ is the first institution outside of Dartmouth Medical School to offer this new treatment to mentally ill patients in a culturally diverse urban environment.
All the patients in the study come from UMDNJ community mental health centers in New Brunswick, South Brunswick, Piscataway and Newark.
According to Marcello, close to 60 percent of people with highly symptomatic PTSD also suffer from serious mental illness (SMI) such as major depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
Researchers have found that for people with major mental illness and severe PTSD, the post-traumatic stress symptoms rarely go away on their own, which justifies the need for very specialized treatment, such as the cognitive-behavioral therapy.
“We want people suffering from PTSD to realize there are treatment options available,” she said, adding that as the program develops, more clinicians will be trained in the therapy methods.
Marcello describes the therapy as “the first treatment developed for this dually diagnosed — PTSD and SMI — population.” Marcello and Silverstein are in the second year of a four-year clinical trial of the therapy. Currently, 75 patients are enrolled in the program.
Their goal is to treat 200 people during the course of the trial. Participants must be an outpatient or partial program participant at any of the UMDNJ Community Health Centers where trained clinicians and weekly supervision is available.
The study is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.