Story by Joseph Jimenez, National Center for Telehealth & Technology Public Affairs
Warriors don’t like to admit problems with stress, anxiety, depression or even PTSD. If they did, many don’t know who to trust with their problems, or just try to bury it.
Now, two new smart mobile applications can help individuals cope with those challenges of military life. Recently released from the Defense Department’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2) on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, LifeArmor and PE (Prolonged Exposure) Coach are two very different mobile apps with a common purpose: help the warrior.
LifeArmor has 17 behavioral topics about military life many people find difficult to talk about.
“We hope an anonymous source of credible information will help many people facing difficult situations in their military careers,” said Dr. Robert Ciulla, T2 clinical psychologist. “We wanted to get this information to each member of our military community and used the popularity of the smartphone to reach them.”
Ciulla led the development of Afterdeployment.org in 2008. The website was developed to help service members returning from combat deployments. Ciulla said the success of the website led to the development of the app that fits better in the lifestyle of a mobile military population.
LifeArmor’s behavioral topics are: alcohol and drugs, anger, anxiety, depression, families and friendships, families with kids, life stress, mild traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma, physical injury, post-traumatic stress, resilience, sleep, spirituality, stigma, tobacco and work adjustment.
Each topic has four sections with information, assessments, videos with personal stories and interactive exercises to develop coping skills. Ciulla said the assessments are useful, but are not intended to be the sole basis for conclusions about a user’s mental health status and should not replace professional counseling.
While LifeArmor is an app for individual learning and management of symptoms, the PE (for prolonged exposure) Coach mobile app was developed to be used by a patient who is being treated for PTSD by a clinician or therapist.
PE Coach is the first mobile app designed for PTSD therapy. T2 worked with the Veterans Administration for two years to develop the app. Prolonged exposure therapy for PTSD is used by the DOD and VA. Like LifeArmor, PE Coach was developed to use the popularity of the smartphone.
“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 Dr. Greg Reger, 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.”
Prolonged exposure is a widely-used therapy that helps a patient process a trauma memory to reduce the distress and avoidance caused by the trauma. During the therapy, 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.
Dr. Jonathon Woodson, assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs, said “We have shared this app with our military health care providers and hope that many individuals who are receiving PE therapy will find it useful.”