During a recent conversation with Amit Etkin, MD, PhD, about treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder, the Stanford psychiatrist explained to me that "the situation is quite dire." The only effective treatment (.pdf) for PTSD is a specialized type of therapy called exposure-based psychotherapy - but research has shown that its fails to help a good chunk of patients. And there is little evidence that medication is helpful.
For this reason, Etkin and his colleagues at Stanford and the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System have launched a study that they hope will lead to future treatment options for PTSD patients. Their imaging study will shed light on what happens in the brains of patients during psychotherapy and will identify which regions of the brain a future study might target with transcranial magnetic stimulation - a noninvasive method of brain stimulation - as a possible remedy for PTSD.
“Understanding the brain mechanisms of psychotherapy will allow us to personalize treatment and make treatments better,” Etkin, who is now looking for trial participants, told me. His work is being funded by the National Institutes of Health, through a Biobehavioral Research Award for Innovative New Scientists (BRAINS) Award that he received last year.