This PTSD treatment is restoring lives

A Syrian military officer records a video inside the destroyed Scientific Research Centre in Damascus, Syria April 14, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

RALEIGH — A treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is changing people’s lives for the better, and at an impressive rate.

Reconsolidation of Traumatic Memories (RTM) is a therapy that uses no drugs and focuses on the hippocampus, where memories are stored. The process uses a brief process of two or three sessions involving questions and visualizations to retrieve and then alter a memory using a dissociation strategy.

The participant is asked to imagine they are in a movie theater watching the traumatic event as movie at first played slowly, then increasing speed, then backward and then in black and white. The process is repeated until the participant can comfortably step back into the movie and talk about the trauma without discomfort.

RTM was designed by 75-year-old Dr. Frank Bourke, the founder and executive director of the non-profit Research and Recognition Project. RTM is the result of the refinement of a therapy plan created by Bourke in treating survivors of the 9/11 terror attacks.

Bourke is a clinical and research psychologist with 33 years of experience, a masters degree in clinical psychology from St. John’s University and a Ph.D. in psychology from the Institute of Psychiatry in London.

Results from the first two research studies on veterans who received the RTM treatment showed promise. Over 90 percent of the participants saw an end to nightmares, flashbacks and the emotional issues they had been experiencing.

The Research and Recognition Project’s website boasts that RTM can stop post-traumatic stress from starting if it is administered shortly after the service member returns from duty. The testimonials on the site are moving and speak to the lasting impact that RTM has had. The group shields the privacy of participants by labeling the statements by client numbers instead of names.

“Doing the Protocol was a big ‘Wow’ for me,” said Client 3035. “I was unable to sleep, walk down hallways without thinking someone would shoot me, or enjoy playing with my daughter without feeling guilty. Now I am able to laugh and joke like I used to before deployment.”

While RTM has been used for military personnel experiencing PTSD, it also has applications for first responders, sexual assault survivors and child abuse victims.

“I can speak about the events without anxiety, in detail, without fear,” said Client 4001, a victim of rape. “I’m sleeping through the night now. I am not as focused on the past. I have more self-confidence, more self-esteem. My doctor is taking me off lithium because my mood is more stable. It was valuable to do the three treatment sessions because my life now feels worthwhile.”

RTM has a strong advocate in retired Navy Rear Admiral Dennis Wisely who once commanded the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier (CV-67), flew 350 Vietnam combat missions and was the commander and flight leader of the Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron.

Rear Admiral Wisely is also the President Emeritus of the Blue Angels Association and is involved with their charitable foundation focusing on the support of wounded veterans and those dealing with PTSD.

Wisely related the story of how the Blue Angels came to be involved with RTM and how their organization brought Dr. Bourke to California to work with some veterans who were dealing with PTSD.

One of the veterans Bourke treated previously told Wisely he was “on the verge of committing suicide,” but RTM changed all of that.

“Not only is he not wanting to commit suicide anymore, he’s now married with kids and works for a congressman in San Diego,” Wisely said.

Another veteran who Wisely said was treated using RTM is now one of the spokespeople on the RTM Protocol for the Blue Angels.

The Blue Angels Foundation would go on to fundraise, bringing in almost a quarter of a million dollars in order to do a 30-person clinical study of RTM in 2015. At the six-month follow-up, 28 of the 30 male participants were PTSD free. A second study was then done, this time involving females, and it had a similarly high success rate of over 90 percent.

With such success rates, one might think this protocol would be flying through the Veterans Administration, but Wisely says the treatment has been getting a “tremendous amount of pushback.”

“We’re making end-runs around it [the pushback],” said Wisely, “by raising money to train people in the RTM Protocol.”

“Quite frankly, I think the drug companies have a huge influence on why we can’t get this [RTM] totally in the mainstream,” said Wisely.

Wisely indicated that enough money was raised for six RTM training sessions which have been done around the country, including two in New Mexico and four in Florida.

The training in Florida has resulted in RTM being used to help students coping with the school shooting that took place in 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. One of the survivors, Alexandra, has been searching for a therapy to help her cope and finally found RTM.

In an interview with Spectrum News 13 in Florida, Alexandra said, “I felt like a weight was lifted off of me, and the next day there was a loud noise and I didn’t jump.”

About A.P. Dillon 41 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_