A Breakthrough in Personalized Self-Treatment

Tel Aviv University develops pioneering new approach to preventative care.

(Dean Drobot / Shutterstock.com)

In the wake of traumatic events, individuals often face the risk of developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a debilitating condition that can significantly impact their mental health and quality of life. However, researchers at Tel Aviv University have pioneered a groundbreaking approach to prevent the development of PTSD through personalized self-treatment strategies, The Jerusalem Post reports.

Personalized self-treatment strategies
Traditional methods for preventing PTSD typically involve early intervention by mental health professionals, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or medication. While these approaches can be effective, they may not always be readily accessible or suitable for everyone, particularly in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event. 

The innovative approach was developed by Tel Aviv University, led by Dr. Oren Asman, Director of the Samueli Initiative for Responsible AI in Medicine, and Prof. Yael Lahav, Head of the Psychological Trauma Research Lab, along with researchers and engineers, product managers, designers and data scientists from Microsoft Israel R&D Center. It aims to empower individuals to take control of their mental wellbeing through personalized self-treatment strategies. With a quick self-intervention that takes several minutes, the new technology will allow for the prompt stabilization of a person's emotional condition following a traumatic occurrence, such as a disturbing military action. 

A person's immediate functioning may be disrupted by their body's and mind's response to such an event, and if it persists long enough, it may develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The objective is to use easily accessible online methods to break this sequence of events right from the beginning. The technique is based on eighty films that feature professional psychologists teaching self-training exercises.

Responding immediately after trauma
“Right after the war began, I spoke with representatives of the Ministry of Defense about the need to develop tools for addressing trauma on a national scale. We consulted with Prof. Yael Lahav, who suggested converting ISP® (Immediate Stabilization Procedure) - an early intervention approach applied by therapists immediately after trauma - into an online self-treatment platform. Microsoft Israel R&D volunteered a team of talented engineers, and we were on our way,” Dr. Asman told The Jerusalem Post. 

ISP was created by Dr. Gary Quinn and is based on the EMDR technique, which is acknowledged by the World Health Organization and other organizations as the primary treatment for post-trauma. Bilateral stimulation, or tapping both shoulders simultaneously to activate the brain's right and left hemispheres, is one aspect of the procedure. Another is exposure to phrases that are customized to the patient's core distress.

“I believe that the tool we have developed will have a favorable effect, preventing post-traumatic symptoms as well as other emotional difficulties that often follow trauma, such as depression, anxiety, and physical symptoms,” Prof. Lahav stated. 

Corina Feuerstein, Product Manager at Microsoft Israel R&D Center, explained how the project took shape. “The production process started immediately after October 7th and was led by our local innovation lab, the Garage, following the understanding that this technology can assist and be part of the solution for many people in need of immediate help and in complex emotional situations. It is a great privilege to be part of this technological project which has such a meaningful social impact. Making accessible the option for personal treatment in an easy and quick way for a broad public lets us quickly reach a helping hand to those in need in the moment of distress. I hope it will help many people in the short and the long term.”

Personalized self-treatment has the potential to reach a wider audience, including individuals who may not typically seek out traditional mental health services. By harnessing the power of technology, these interventions can be disseminated on a large scale, reaching individuals in remote or underserved communities, as well as those with limited access to mental health resources.

While further research is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of personalized self-treatment in preventing PTSD, early findings are promising. By harnessing the synergy between technology, psychology, and personalized medicine, researchers at Tel Aviv University are paving the way for a new paradigm in trauma prevention and mental health care. With continued innovation and investment in this area, personalized self-treatment has the potential to revolutionize how we approach and prevent PTSD in the future.

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