How Might Reconsolidation Therapy Benefit First-Line Responders and Military Personnel?

Soldiers, veterans, military officers, and first-line responders, such as police officers, firemen/women, paramedics, and medical staff are specially trained and selected to deal with complex and life-threatening situations. These situations can be terrifying, often involve the possibility of risking one’s life. Memories of these events can linger and be difficult to process, often resulting in post-traumatic stress or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When these recollections repeatedly return during the day or while sleeping, the distress created by these memories’ return can seriously impair well-being and functioning.

Emergency responders are at high risk for PTSD. These individuals often live with the recurring recollections and emotional residue caused by traumatic situations and events beyond the limits of what is tolerable by a human being. These thoughts can seriously impact the minds and bodies of those mandated to rescue, heal, and protect others. The psychological and emotional toll of occupational distress on the front lines are often high. For example, suicide rates among police officers are three times higher than the civilian population. Reconsolidation Therapy offers a short-term treatment option as an adjunct or add-on to existing PTSD treatments to alleviate some of the emotional distress associated with traumatic memories.

Addressing traumatic memories has typically required a longer-term therapy, which can be difficult to endure for some first-line responders and military personnel seeking quicker solutions to alleviate their distress. Longer-term treatment solutions may not be tolerated as well by some, particularly those who wish for a quick return to work. For first-line responders who have PTSD, Reconsolidation Therapy may shorten some aspects of PTSD treatment given the added benefit of improving distress associated with traumatic memories and current PTSD symptoms.

Dr. Genevieve Boudreault, D.Psy, C.Psych is a clinical psychologist at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR). Dr. Boudreault, C.Psych. provides psychological services to adults that have experienced traumatic events and are suffering from complex (C-PTSD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She is certified to practice Reconsolidation Therapy and supervises a team of therapists that provides these treatments to alleviate suffering associated with traumatic memories.

Reconsolidation Therapy at CFIR: An Adjunct Treatment for PTSD

Reconsolidation Therapy is a short-term PTSD treatment for people who have been exposed to traumatic events (e.g., violence, accidents, rape, horrific scenes, combat-related experiences). First-line responders, such as police officers, firemen/women, military officers, paramedics, and medical staff, often have out-of-the-ordinary experiences that leave emotional residue and difficult memories. Events including (but not limited to) car accidents, violence, and sexual assault can result in traumatic memories that wreak havoc in our everyday lives. Reconsolidation Therapy treatment works by directly activating the traumatic memory of the event and uses both psychological and medical intervention to reduce PTSD.

Several evidence-based treatments address the problematic symptoms of PTSD, including more commonly used ones such as Exposure Therapy/CBT. While existing treatments have demonstrated their effectiveness, the distress associated with re-visiting traumatic memories can be daunting and result in some clients avoiding treatment. Reconsolidation Therapy is an add-on treatment that integrates aspects of existing evidence-based psychological treatments with medical intervention.

Here’s how it works:

Dr. Alain Brunet has developed reconsolidation therapy. Initial research findings suggest that this treatment can significantly reduce PTSD symptoms. This relatively new PTSD treatment uses a combination of six sessions of talk therapy under the influence of safe medication, a beta-adrenergic blocker known to lower blood pressure. In Reconsolidation Therapy, the medication essentially blocks the traumatic memory’s emotional arousal aspect from binding with details of the event. You will remember details of the events but with significantly less emotional intensity than before treatment.

Gradually, over four to six sessions lasting 25-30 minutes, the emotional distress associated with the memory shifts so that recollection of the event may be comfortable but no longer accompanied by the same amount of emotional distress. In short, this process does not change the memory but reduces the intensity of the emotional content.

Clinicians at CFIR who offer clinical services in the Trauma Psychology and PTSD Service now provide Reconsolidation Therapy as an adjunct treatment to current treatment protocols that are in use. (e.g., CBT, EMDR, psychodynamic, etc.).

Dr. Genevieve Boudreault, D.Psy, C.Psych. is a clinical psychologist at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR). Dr. Boudreault, C.Psych. provides psychological services to adults that have experienced traumatic events and are suffering from complex (C-PTSD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She is certified to practice Reconsolidation Therapy and supervises a team of therapists that provides these treatments to alleviate suffering associated with traumatic memories.

What is Reconsolidation Therapy for PTSD?

In this initial blog of a three-part series on PTSD and Reconsolidation Therapy, we will provide an overview of what this treatment is and how it might help you overcome PTSD symptoms. In the second blog, we provide more information about how the treatment can be used with other evidence-based therapies. Finally, in our third blog, we specifically look at the benefits added with professionals such as front-line responders (paramedics, firemen/women, police/RCMP officers, medical staff) and military personnel (e.g., veterans, soldiers, navy) in mind.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that affects 6-9% of people after they experience or witness a life-threatening, traumatic event. PTSD occurs when a person cannot process the traumatic event. Memories of the traumatic event continue to wreak havoc in a person’s life and are at the root of PTSD symptoms.

There are many reliable, evidence-based psychological treatments for PTSD. Some treatments target the symptoms of PTSD, while others target the memory of the traumatic event. Reconsolidation Therapy is a relatively new PTSD treatment that targets the memory of the traumatic event itself. Research studies substantiating the effectiveness of this treatment have been promising to-date. This treatment can be used as an adjunct or add-on treatment to existing evidence-based therapies.

How can this treatment work for you?

Reconsolidation Therapy combines psychological treatment strategies with medical intervention. The treatment works to activate your traumatic memory using psychological treatment strategies while using a medication (a beta-blocker called ‘propranolol’). The psychological treatment alongside the medication decreases the intensity of emotions associated with your troublesome traumatic memory. Research has shown after six weekly sessions, the emotional content of the traumatic memory is modified during reconsolidation therapy, and consequently, the symptoms of PTSD can decrease significantly.

Dr. Geneviève Boudreault, D.Psy, C.Psych. is a clinical psychologist at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR). Dr. Boudreault, C.Psych. provides psychological services to adults that have experienced traumatic events and are suffering from complex (C-PTSD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She is certified to practice Reconsolidation Therapy and supervises a team of therapists that provides this treatment to alleviate suffering associated with traumatic memories.

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