Using Attention Training To Augment PTSD Treatment In Veterans

Using attention training to augment PTSD treatment in veterans

New technology developed in the Israeli military, designed to treat PTSD utilising a quick, simple computer task, is being tested in Australian veterans in a world-first treatment trial. In collaboration with the Toowong Private Hospital in Brisbane and Tel Aviv University, Phoenix Australia’s Centenary of Anzac Centre is conducting a randomised controlled trial, the attention training to augment veterans’ PTSD treatment (ACTIVATE) trial, to determine if completing a simple attention training task prior to commencing PTSD treatment can improve treatment outcomes.  


Two key symptoms of PTSD are hypervigilance and avoidance, which are caused in part by a disrupted attention system. People with PTSD usually alternate between paying too little and too much attention to threatening information. The goal of attention training is to correct the imbalance in the attention system, which in turn reduces PTSD symptoms.


An attention training task is like a simple computer game, where threatening and non-threatening stimuli are presented onscreen, and the individual is asked to respond to a prompt. Attention training is delivered over four weekly sessions, each lasting approximately seven minutes.


While this type of attention training has been found to be effective at reducing PTSD symptoms in members of the Israeli and American defence forces, the ACTIVATE trial will be the first time it has been paired with a hospital-based PTSD treatment to see if it improves patient outcomes.


Participants in the ACTIVATE trial are veterans of the Australian Defence Force who are aged 18 years or older and enrolled in the Toowong Trauma Recovery Program. Recruitment for the ACTIVATE trial began in November 2018 and is scheduled to finish in October 2020. We anticipate the results will be available by early 2021.


The findings from this trial will open up new avenues for improving responses to PTSD treatment and help to develop better treatments for veterans, and the broader community, with PTSD.