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 on November 11th, 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. Exposure therapy

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.”

(Read Full Interview)

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.

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BACKGROUND: PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault. People with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended. They may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares; they may feel sadness, fear or anger; and they may feel detached or estranged from other people. People with PTSD may avoid situations or people that remind them of the traumatic event, and they may have strong negative reactions to something as ordinary as a loud noise or an accidental touch.


EXPOSURE THERAPY: Exposure therapy is considered a behavioral treatment for PTSD. This is because exposure therapy targets learned behaviors that people engage in (most often the avoidance) in response to situations or thoughts and memories that are viewed as frightening or anxiety-provoking. For example, a rape survivor may begin to avoid relationships or going out on dates for fear that she will be attacked again. There are a number of methods used, including in vivo exposure, imaginal exposure, interoceptive exposure, and prolonged exposure. Exposure therapy has been found to be a very effective treatment for PTSD. In addition, methods for delivering exposure therapy to people are continuing to advance. In particular, some therapists are beginning to use virtual reality technology to help people confront the things they fear most.


UCF RESTORES: Deborah C. Beidel, PhD, ABPP, Pegasus Professor of Psychology and Director of UCF RESTORES says since the start of their research trials in 2011, they have treated over 500 veterans and active duty personnel from 25 different states, 225 first responders, sexual assault survivors and survivors of mass shootings. Beidel stated, “There are good effective treatments out there for post-traumatic stress disorder. And people need to know that they exist. Something that happens is sometimes the first therapist someone meets with is not the right therapist for many reasons. They don’t click interpersonally, the therapist may not be qualified to do the treatment, and it’s important for someone to go and find someone else. Find someone else who can provide the right care. This is a disorder that is treatable.”

(Source: Deborah C. Beidel, PhD, ABPP)


Elizabeth Lytle, PR


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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Deborah C. Beidel, PhD, ABPP, Trustee Chair and Pegasus Professor of Psychology and Director

Read the entire Q&A