Exposure Therapy

Health Watch

A new therapy program is saving the lives of those who survived trauma.

Pat Scanlon served as a firefighter for 28 years. One fire almost destroyed his life. Pat Scanlon, retired firefighter, “I encountered a young woman and a little girl and the young woman said four words to me: ‘he’s still in there.'”

Pat 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.

Pat Scanlon said, “All I could think about was this child and this fire, and it was happening over and over and over.”

Pat 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, Ph.D., ABPP, Pegasus Professor of Psychology, Director of UCF Restores said, “So smells that are associated with trauma are very intense and they’re very emotional smells.”

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 was always used to clean up the blood. Sometimes that’s something they associate so we’ll bring in, okay what was the cleaning supplies?”

Pat did their three-week intensive outpatient program, with at least three sessions a day, five days a week.

Pat Scanlon said, “As my three weeks progressed, my stress levels went down considerably and I can talk about it today.”

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.

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