Psychiatric Annals

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Service Dogs in Military Medicine

Barbara O. Rothbaum, PhD

Abstract

Although there are effective treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), service members (SMs) are often reluctant to present for treatment. “The Role of Service Dog Training in the Treatment of Combat-Related PTSD,” by Rick Yount, Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, Matthew St. Laurent, Perry Chumley, and Meg Daley Olmert, describes some of the history, anecdotes, and science of using service dogs to assist military personnel.

The anecdotal reports covered by Yount and colleagues indicate that service dogs may reduce PTSD by increasing physical activity, social engagement, and reducing avoidance. Interactions with service dogs may be linked to an increase in oxytocin and reduction in biomarkers of stress and inflammation, offering a biological explanation for symptom reduction. However, this has not been assessed in a scientifically rigorous manner. More definitive findings regarding the efficacy of complementary and alternative medicine therapies and the use of service dogs for PTSD specifically are needed to understand which interventions do and do not work for PTSD in SMs.

The results stand to have a substantial impact on the treatment of SMs with PTSD. The use of service dogs may allow active duty personnel to remain in the military; and it may help improve treatment of veterans with PTSD, the acceptability of their treatment, the response to treatment in all spheres of functioning, and reduce their long-term disability.…

Although there are effective treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), service members (SMs) are often reluctant to present for treatment. “The Role of Service Dog Training in the Treatment of Combat-Related PTSD,” by Rick Yount, Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, Matthew St. Laurent, Perry Chumley, and Meg Daley Olmert, describes some of the history, anecdotes, and science of using service dogs to assist military personnel.

The anecdotal reports covered by Yount and colleagues indicate that service dogs may reduce PTSD by increasing physical activity, social engagement, and reducing avoidance. Interactions with service dogs may be linked to an increase in oxytocin and reduction in biomarkers of stress and inflammation, offering a biological explanation for symptom reduction. However, this has not been assessed in a scientifically rigorous manner. More definitive findings regarding the efficacy of complementary and alternative medicine therapies and the use of service dogs for PTSD specifically are needed to understand which interventions do and do not work for PTSD in SMs.

The results stand to have a substantial impact on the treatment of SMs with PTSD. The use of service dogs may allow active duty personnel to remain in the military; and it may help improve treatment of veterans with PTSD, the acceptability of their treatment, the response to treatment in all spheres of functioning, and reduce their long-term disability.

Authors

 

Barbara O. Rothbaum, PhD, is Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine; and Director, Trauma and Anxiety Recovery Program, Emory University School of Medicine. Dr. Rothbaum is a clinical psychologist who specializes in research on the treatment of individuals with anxiety disorders, focusing in particular on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

She has authored more than 200 scientific papers and chapters, and has published four books on the treatment of PTSD. Dr. Rothbaum received the Diplomate in Behavioral Psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology.

Dr. Rothbaum has served as a Blue Ribbon Panel Member for Pentagon officials since 2009 and serves on the committee for the Institute of Medicine’s Study on Assessment of Ongoing Efforts in the Treatment of PTSD. One of her current NIMH grants focuses on treating chronic PTSD in Iraq veterans using virtual reality exposure therapy combined with medication (d-cycloserine, alprazolam, or placebo).

 To contact Dr. Rothbaum, please send email to: brothba@emory.edu.

10.3928/00485713-20130605-10

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