UW News

March 12, 2018

UW study offers help to soldiers with signs of PTSD

UW News

The University of Washington is looking for veterans who may be experiencing PTSD symptoms to participate in a counseling study.

The University of Washington is looking for veterans who may be experiencing PTSD symptoms to participate in a counseling study.


As the war in Afghanistan enters its 17th year – it’s often labeled America’s longest war – an estimated 11 to 20 percent of its veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder.

But PTSD symptoms of anxiety, sleeplessness and anger aren’t, of course, relegated to those who served in the Middle East, or even in combat. Veterans have a higher rate of PTSD than the general population, among which an estimated 7 percent will experience symptoms at some point during their lives. Research has shown, too, that service members have a higher incidence of childhood trauma than those without military experience.

Yet many service members don’t seek help, because they think it’s unlikely to work, they fear damage to their career, or they simply don’t know where to turn.

Now the University of Washington is launching a study to identify soldiers experiencing post-traumatic stress symptoms and to determine whether free, confidential, over-the-phone counseling can help them navigate resources and spur them to seek further support.

UW Stress Check is recruiting active-duty personnel to participate in the study, which involves three counseling sessions over two months, as well as four follow-up assessments within the first six months, all by phone.

“There are a lot of barriers to seeking care in the military,” said Denise Walker, a research associate professor in the UW School of Social Work. “Soldiers are worried about it going on their record, losing their security clearance, or risking a promotion. But with PTSD, like substance abuse, if you seek treatment earlier, you can get your life back sooner.”

In recent years, Walker led a similar UW study involving soldiers, known as the Warrior Check-Up, which used a phone-counseling intervention to address excessive alcohol use. Participants in that study cut their drinking in half by the end of six months – an example of a “self-change,” in which a person can take action to adjust his or her own behavior.

“In this trial, the target is different. The ultimate outcome is for people to seek additional resources and to resolve their ambivalence about doing that. If they could just stop having PTSD, they would have done so,” explained Walker, who is leading the study with Debra Kaysen, a UW professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

“This is an opportunity for them to talk about the symptoms related to the traumatic event, how that experience has gotten in their way, or is getting in the way of relationships, work and school, in an effort to help them weigh the pros and cons of seeking help,” Walker said.

Soldiers receive up to $200 for their participation. The study is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense.

To participate, call 1-866-866-0137, email ucheckup@uw.edu or visit www.uwstresscheck.com. For more information, contact Walker at ddwalker@uw.edu or 206-543-7511, or Kaysen at dkaysen@uw.edu or 206-221-4657.