Edna Foa is a Professor of Clinical Psychology in Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and Director of the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety. Her most recent book, Prolonged Exposure Therapy for PTSD: Emotional Processing of Traumatic Experiences, was written with Elizabeth Hembree and Barbara Olaslov Rothbaum. The guide gives clinicians the information they need to treat clients who exhibit the symptoms of PTSD. Recently Foa was name by Time Magazine as one of the most influential people in 2010. Below she reacts to the honor.
My first reaction was that of disbelief when I learned that I had been selected for Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in 2010. I thought someone was pulling my leg. I called my husband and shared the news with him, he thought I was pulling his leg. My youngest daughter said: “get out of here, you must be joking”. But of course, we all know that the email was genuine. First, I was stunned. After all, I am not a rock star, not a head of state, not even a famous athlete. And then I was delighted. Isn’t it wonderful that someone at Time recognized the importance of the work we, clinical psychology researchers, do to help PTSD sufferers. I felt quite honored to represent our field.
As clinical scientists we know that we have a lot of powerful treatments. But we also are painfully aware of how difficult it is to make these treatments widely available. The treatments that we have for anxiety disorders are particularly efficacious and yet most clinicians do not deliver them. For many reasons it is hard to get mental health clinicians to adopt new treatments. As a result, countless individuals with anxiety and other disorders experience needless suffering that could be decreased or terminated via the application of the effective treatments we developed.
The cost of bad treatment reaches beyond individuals. Institutions and society as a whole suffer from what is a public health issue. For example, the VA, the military and insurance companies all have a stake in individuals receiving the most effective treatments for psychological disorders. And yet, there have been very few effective initiatives requiring practitioners to learn and deliver the best psychological treatments.
And so I hope that Time Magazine’s recognition of my work is in essence recognition of the tremendous importance of not only developing effective, evidence-based treatment, but more importantly, disseminating them among mental health professionals. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have brought home the awareness of how important it is to deliver effective treatments to the many soldiers who return from these wars with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I strongly believe that PTSD is not only a mental health disorder; it is also a societal problem. It is the responsibility of our society to help PTSD sufferers as a result of being injured at work, raped in our schools, physically assaulted in our streets, or experiencing the horror of war. We know that effective treatments for PTSD such as Prolonged Exposure (PE) can help patients regain their lives in as few as 10 sessions over the course of 5 weeks. It is no longer necessary for individuals with PTSD to suffer for decades. Recognition of our progress in knowing how to treat PTSD by Time and other media can play an important role in spreading the word about what clinical science has to offer.
I hope that Time’s recognition will help therapists to seek training in the effective treatments we developed and help patients to request them.