Eyes are focus of new University of Cincinnati study to treat PTSD

Posted at 7:23 PM, Apr 03, 2023

CINCINNATI — As the saying goes, eyes are the window to the soul. Those same eyes are also the focus of a new study to help heal combat veterans of their post-traumatic stress tied to their service.

“It's gonna take us three years to do this study because we're going to do the magic trifecta of veterans, first responders and civilians,” said Dr. Kathleen Chard.

Chard is the director of PTSD programs at the Cincinnati Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center and a UC professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience.

The study is being paid for by a $1.25M grant from PESI or the Professional Education Systems Institute and will take a closer look at Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy or EMDR.

“We'll be open both at the UC Health Stress Center and over at the VA, so that we can actually look at EMDR compared to one of our other evidence-based treatments to see if it's as good or better, does it last longer, or is it just the same? But either way, it'll give us a new option for our patients,” she said.

Chard said unlike traditional talk therapy, the patient doesn’t have to speak about the traumatic events tied to their post-traumatic stress.

“This therapy allows you to think of all the things that you don't want to tell anyone, even your best combat friend, and it allows you to keep all of that private, and you can still get better and not have those memories control you in the future,” she said.

Eye movement is the key to the therapy to help your brain reprogram how it reacts to the traumatic memories when triggered.

“It really works at helping people resolve traumatic and distressing memory,” said Marisol Erlacher, president of EMDR International Association.

She says EMDR therapy has been successful for thousands of patients and is approved by the Department of Defense.

“EMDR therapy is really facilitating our brain's capacity to heal. So by using what we call bilateral stimulation, we're helping engage the brain in a way that helps to resolve that traumatic memory,” she said. “What we found is that when people are thinking or talking about distressing events, when they move their eyes back and forth, it facilitates the brain's capacity to help reprocess that information.”

Chard hopes to draw a comparison to Cognitive Processing Therapy. In the end, she hopes to be able to show that for combat veterans there is one more tool in the toolbox to help them live a better and healthier life.

You can find an EMDR therapist in the Greater Cincinnati area by visiting the EMDR International Association website.

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