Virtual Sights, Sounds... and Smells of War

Virtual Sights, Sounds… and Smells of War

Olfaction is one thing that distinguishes UCF’s Trauma Management Therapy (TMT) Program from other post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatment programs.

Dr. Deborah Beidel, director of the UCF Anxiety Disorders Clinic, uses olfactory stimulants such as “Moroccan marketplace,” “body odor” and “weapon fire” to stimulate the same part of the brain (the limbic system) that handles memories and emotions.

“On our diagnostic scale, the average score before treatment was 80, which indicates severe PTSD,” says Beidel. “After treatment, the average dropped to 40. That’s going from ‘I’m having nightmares every night’ to ‘I have a nightmare once a month.’”

Beidel and her team use stimulants to replicate traumatic events experienced by PTSD sufferers. Visual, audio and tactile components are also used, but according to Beidel’s patients, smell acts as the most powerful trigger.

“The point is not to make people comfortable with these events, but to decrease the emotion that has gone along with them,” says Beidel. “So someone stops being afraid to drive under an overpass because it triggers a reaction related to a bridge attack they lived through in Iraq.” John, a soldier who is halfway through treatment, says, “I think the program will give me insight and tools to deal with my anxieties. I’ve just gotten to the point where I can sit in a restaurant without having to face the door.”

While TMT was designed as a 17-week program, the U.S. Army recently granted an additional $1.5 million to UCF to develop a three week intensive program for active-duty soldiers. The grant’s coverage includes patient lodging, which enables soldiers from across the country to participate.

The researchers plan to accept a total of 180 soldiers for treatment, and are now taking applications. For more information, visit anxietyclinic.cos.ucf.edu.