BIU Alumna Edna Foa Helps Alleviate the Torment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
For years it went unacknowledged. When it finally was identified as something real, it was mostly ignored. But, following the Vietnam War and, even more so, after the two longest wars in the history of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military conceded it had a problem...a big one. That’s when it turned to experts including Bar-Ilan University graduate Prof. Edna Foa, the world’s leading expert on treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
PTSD is a particularly debilitating disorder of the mind that combines symptoms of depression, anxiety, anger and isolation. It may be set off by a litany of horrors – rape, childhood sexual abuse, natural disasters and increasingly, as it is now known, by war.
According to studies, it is estimated that between 300,000 to 400,000 soldiers who have returned from
Prolonged Exposure can be distressing in the beginning, but it works. Patients are asked to describe their traumatic memories repeatedly, in present tense with their eyes closed, essentially revisiting the traumatic memory. They are also asked to gradually approach safe situations that they often avoid because those environments remind them of the initial trauma.
“The treatment,” Foa says, “helps patients correct misconceptions about what is dangerous.” By describing the traumatic experience, they can ultimately see it “as something that happened in the past and that is no longer making everyday events feel dangerous.” The treatment works fast – usually within 12 sessions.
Foa, 74, was born in
Despite her many years in the
It was a longer sabbatical visit that began in late 2000 that increased her commitment to working in Israel. Five days after Foa’s arrival, the second intifada broke out and Foa found herself in intense demand to train local professionals to deal with the rapidly multiplying cases of PTSD among both soldiers and civilians. Since then, Foa has purchased an apartment in Tel Aviv and now visits for two months out of every year.
Still, it is with the
Beyond her in-person training and clinical work with PTSD (she also deals with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), Foa is a prolific researcher; according to one count, her writings have been cited an astounding 13,000 times. She received an award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Clinical Psychology from the American Psychological Association; a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies; and is the only Israeli on Time Magazine's 2010 list of the "100 Most Influential People in the World.”
Despite her many achievements, she remains modest. “I didn’t set out to have a glorious career,” she says. “What’s important is that I can make a contribution to the field. If I had the choice to start all over again, I’d do the same thing.” Hundreds of thousands of PTSD patients are grateful that Foa made that choice in the first place, one that started over three decades ago at Bar-Ilan University.