Restoring lives with exposure therapy

ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – A first-of-its kind intensive outpatient program is changing the way trauma survivors are treated.

With Veteran’s Day in November, we think of the men and women who served our country, but many aren’t getting the help they need. The University of Central Florida RESTORES is combining therapy and technology to give these heroes, and others who have survived trauma their lives back.

Pat Scanlon served as a firefighter for 28 years. One fire almost destroyed his life.

“I encountered a young woman and a little girl, and the young woman said four words to me: ‘He’s still in there,’” Scanlon shared.

Scanlon searched frantically but ran out of air and had to retreat. Inspectors scoured the building and found the remains of a three-year-old child.

Scanlon said, “All I could think about was this child and this fire, and it was happening over and over and over.”

Scanlon sought help from UCF RESTORES, a clinical research center for active duty military, veterans, first responders, and other survivors of trauma. Therapists use exposure therapy with virtual reality, motions, sounds, and smells.

Deborah C. Beidel, PhD, ABPP, Pegasus Professor of Psychology and Director of UCF RESTORES explained, “So smells that are associated with trauma are very intense and they’re very emotional smells.”

Chloe West, LMHC, UCF RESTORES Mental Health Clinician said, “If there’s one we don’t have, like if somebody says you know the same cleaning supplies were always used to clean up the blood. Sometimes that’s something they associate so we’ll bring in, okay what were the cleaning supplies?”

Scanlon did their three-week intensive outpatient program, with at least three sessions a day, five days a week.

“As my three weeks progressed, my stress levels went down considerably and I can talk about it today,” said Scanlon.

Deborah Beidel says 67 percent of veterans and 76 percent of first responders no longer meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder after the three weeks. RESTORES is open to anyone and free to Florida residents. The cost for non-Florida residents is between eight and ten thousand, including housing. Virginia Tech is collaborating with a local VA to start a similar program for veterans and Houston Medical Center in Texas is also starting a similar program.

Contributors to this news report include: Hayley Hudson, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.