A recent article in the New York Times on alternative treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) highlights a key question: how do we know what alternative therapies work to treat our veterans suffering from PTSD?
Dr. Barbara Rothbaum is a psychologist at Emory University who runs an intensive two-week PTSD treatment program that includes complementary and alternative treatments. While compiling a National Academy of Sciences report on therapies for PTSD, she encountered a key issue: “We met a lot of well-meaning clinicians around the country creating programs with equine therapy or wilderness therapy or whatever, and there was no way to know if any of it worked,” said. “Because of that, we couldn’t recommend it.”
This is not to say that the programs do not work—but the evidence base is not strong enough yet. Part of that is a question of research funding. Drug companies have a vested interest in funding multi-million dollar clinical trials. However, many of the organizations running these alternative programs barely have enough funding to carry out the programs, and therefore do not have the extra funding available for the evaluation of these programs—creating a cyclical problem.
“We need to get what doesn’t work OUT and what DOES work IN the regular treatment for PTSD,” said Wayne B. Jonas, MD. “But we can’t do that unless we build evaluation into each program.”
Two recent projects of Samueli Institute are helping to build the evidence base for complementary and alternative treatments for pain, stress and health.
- Stress Management – A new report by Samueli Institute boils down more than a decade of research on stress management. It builds upon an earlier study that focused on military-related programs.
- Massage– Samueli Institute recently published a systematic reviews and meta-analysis series that is the first to rigorously assess the quality of massage therapy research and evidence for its efficacy in treating pain, function-related and health-related quality of life for pain, cancer and surgical patients.
In his article entitled The Evidence of Enough, Dr. Jonas explains the challenge and the imperative of managing and evaluating the growing body of evidence: “A more rigorous management of the judgment processes for evidence is needed. Lives, money and the mitigation of suffering depend on it.” Read more.