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Professor Reg Nixon is determined to find better health outcomes for our Nation’s heroes. The recipient of the 2018 Prabha Seshadri Grant, Prof Nixon from Flinders University’s College of Education, Psychology and Social Work is currently undertaking research to improve the effectiveness of Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) for Post-Traumatic Stress.

“Inevitably, our veterans and emergency service personnel will be exposed to and face trauma as part of their jobs, which can affect their mental health and lead to issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress.

CPT is a specific type of cognitive behavioural therapy that has been proven in reducing symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress, which can occur after a traumatic experience. It helps people learn skills to ultimately recognise that their traumas don’t have to consume their lives.

Prof Nixon is working alongside psychologist Ms Marja Elizabeth, who conducted a large-scale pilot study which compared modified CPT to the standard CPT.

“This project is about getting more out of current psychological therapies for Post-Traumatic Stress for our veterans and emergency service personnel. We know evidence-based therapy like CPT is effective, however not all benefit with 20-30 per cent dropping out and about 50 per cent still experiencing symptoms,” Prof Nixon said.

“This research builds on making CPT, which can get excellent results in many instances, more effective for people. The project is innovative in that no one in Australia has modified and tested a Post-Traumatic Stress treatment in the way we propose.”

Marja agrees and believes the therapy is effective as it stands but can be improved and have an even higher success rate by tailoring the sessions.

“Our pilot study found tailoring the therapy to each person when it was necessary was effective and people were more inclined to come to the weekly sessions, so we will continue tailoring the sessions throughout the project,” Marja said.

“For example, even though the sessions are very structured, they are also flexible and individualised. Initially we might think it’s a certain event or trauma affecting the person, but we could discover that other things need to be addressed such as sleep issues, or substance use, and we need to be able to work with that.”

A one-hour session per week is offered to each person, with the option of having the full 25 sessions available if needed.

“We know if people don’t get at least 3-5 sessions, the chances of them improving are lessened. CPT is known to have cured people of their Post-Traumatic Stress so we are trying to discover the best ways to keep people engaged in the therapy as we know it really works if people continue,” Prof Nixon said.

“I’m thankful for the funding from The Road Home who have made this project possible. This is specifically for veterans and emergency service personnel who have complicated life experiences through their work and we believe tailoring each CPT session will help them achieve better mental health and save lives.”

We are proud to be supporting Prof Nixon’s research that will improve the wellbeing and mental health of our veterans and emergency service personnel. If you would like to find out more about participating in this study, email traumaunit@flinders.edu.au or call (08) 8201 5995.