UCF RESTORES, which began as a government-funded research initiative in 2011, has grown to serve as an invaluable resource to the Orlando community, the state of Florida and beyond. The nonprofit’s unique approach to treatment — including the first-of-its-kind (in the U.S.) three-week intensive outpatient program — combines exposure therapy, emerging technology, and one-on-one and group therapy sessions to realize unprecedented success for those suffering from PTSD. 76% of first responders and 66% of participants with combat-related trauma no longer meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD following just three weeks of treatment with UCF RESTORES.

The program serves a variety of populations, including veterans, active-duty military, first responders, essential workers, survivors of mass violence and sexual assault, and more. And, the program’s services are currently available at no cost to Florida residents.

Beidel sat down with our team to discuss the meaning behind this honor and share more about UCF RESTORES and the populations they serve.

What does a “spirit of advocacy” mean to you?
To me, embodying a spirit of advocacy means combining your skills, passion and time to make this world a better place — not just for yourself, but for everyone. It’s using your platform, your pulpit — no matter its size — to speak out for individuals who may not be able to speak out for themselves. It also means stepping outside your comfort zone (in my case, academia) and working with others in different spheres toward a common goal.

You work hard to bring your work to as many people as possible. Describe the fulfillment these efforts brings to you and the UCF RESTORES team.
One of psychology’s mandates is to “give psychology away,” with the purpose of bettering our communities. What benefit would it provide me to have worked so hard, for so many years, to find an effective treatment for trauma and then not make it available to others in need?

And, at UCF RESTORES, serving others is in our DNA. Many faculty and staff have served in the military, as first responders or have family with service backgrounds. I have dedicated my career to this work, but at UCF RESTORES — with a passionate team of five faculty members (including myself), 10 staff, and seven graduate students, as well as our many program graduates and research partners — I am far from being on this charge alone.

A veteran came up to me one day and said, “You have given me the rest of my life back.” I knew that this person had been struggling, treated unsuccessfully, for over two decades. I said, “I am so sorry that you lost so many years.” His response? “Don’t be sorry. I have the rest of my life.” That is why we do what we do.

Though UCF RESTORES’ reach extends far beyond state borders, so much of the program’s work focuses on the Sunshine State and its residents. In your view, what is the primary benefit of investing so much time and energy into the place you live and work?
We are part of this community. First responders and veterans serve our community, and so many that populate it have been affected by trauma. This state is, unfortunately, home to a number of mass shootings, and some of the most horrific that have occurred across the nation.

Florida was recently ranked 48th nationwide in terms of access to mental health care. We have to do better. In the meantime, we are committed to improving the health of Floridians — through our clinic, through our research and through our educational efforts.