Digital behavior change platform wins VA contract for treating PTSD

By Laura Lovett
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Potentia Lab, a behavior changing technology platform, today announced that it has won a contract with the Department of Veterans Affairs' Center for Innovation to develop its e-learning platform for veterans living with PTSD. The company's approach to treating PTSD uses positive psychology. 

Dustin Milner, cofounder of Potentia, told MobiHealthNews the PTSD treatment at the VA is "wonderful" from a clinical standpoint. But for reasons related to their military training, veterans often have trouble attending and sticking with traditional therapy.

“[Treatments] are at odds with the warrior mindset — which is how anyone entering the armed services is really trained to think,” Milner said. “You don’t acknowledge weakness. ... So when veterans come out and go to treatment, it is kind of at odds with what the therapist is trying to work on.”

Many veterans go to therapy once but don’t go back, said Milner. That is where Potentia Labs comes in. The platform teaches users how to build up skills like resilience and optimism, which have been associated with wellbeing. 

“These are things we aren’t taught in high school or college and we kind of pick them up in our life or we don’t,” Milner said. “But research shows that when you develop these skills it promotes mental health and protects against mental illness.”

Historically the only way to build these skills was to hire a coach. But Potentia aims to give veterans these resources in a scaleable way with the e-learning platform. 

The connection to veterans is personal for the company, Milner said. Cofounder Eric Lenhardt is an army veteran and has undergone treatment for PTSD in the past. 

Currently the company is working with researchers, ranging from a PTSD specialist to academics specializing in positive psychology, to develop the content. The company aims to customize and expand the platform by mixing together gaming technology, instructional design, and expertise from psychologists. 

“This will never take the place of one-on-one human interactions,” Milner said. “We are enthusiastic that this will promote and engage veterans to use traditional treatment.”

The platform will remain in the development phase until July 2018. It will then go into an 18-month trial at a California VA center. 

PTSD awareness and treatment has rapidly been finding its way into the digital space. Yesterday Google announced its new initiative to help address the condition. Now when users search Google for PTSD on their mobile phones the search engine will automatically offer resources and a screening questionnaire. The effort was born out of a partnership between Google, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the VA's National Center for PTSD.