PTSD strained Marine 1st Sgt. Doug Hester’s relationship with his wife, caused him to withdraw from his friends and made him never want to leave his home.

Today, Hester credits a UCF therapy program for helping him become “more social than ever.” His relationship with his wife is the strongest it has ever been, and he loves going out again.

“I don’t have a fear of going into public places anymore,” said Hester, a St. Cloud resident who has served 19 years in the Marine Corps and fought in Afghanistan and Iraq.

On Friday, Hester completed an outpatient therapy program that combines virtual reality with piped-in smells associated with war zones, group therapy sessions and exposure therapy. The program is led by UCF psychology professor Deborah Beidel and funded by the Department of Defense.

The Trauma Management Therapy program has provided treatment for about 80 active-duty personnel and veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Participants are reporting that PTSD became much less prevalent in their lives and has stayed that way several months after treatment.

For Hester, real-world exposure therapy was the most effective. To make him feel comfortable in crowds, his therapist accompanied him to the UCF Student Union and Wal-Mart. She drove to meet him at a shopping mall in Lake Buena Vista where he and his wife shop. The outings were uncomfortable at first, but Hester began feeling at ease and no longer hypervigilant about loud noises or who was coming and going.

Beidel continues to recruit participants for the 17-week outpatient program offered at UCF’s main campus in Orlando and at Stewart-Marchman-Act Behavioral Healthcare in Daytona Beach. An intensive three-week program is available at UCF for participants who live outside the area, and that includes complimentary hotel rooms at the Homewood Suites near campus.

Participants can be from any service branch; they do not need to have been discharged honorably; and they do not need a formal PTSD diagnosis. They also do not need to be UCF students. A member of UCF’s research team will follow up within 72 hours of an initial call.

“The greatest compliment we have received is that people we have treated are referring their military friends to us,” said Beidel, who this year earned the Pegasus Professor Award given to UCF’s most outstanding faculty members.

For more information, call 407-823-3910 or visit

Second Study Focused on Helping Military Families

Many mothers and fathers have been deployed three, four, five or more times to Afghanistan and Iraq. The Department of Defense has asked Beidel to help find out how such repeated deployments impact family members at home.

Unlike research from most previous national studies, Beidel’s team will do more than interview families. They’ll be measuring family members’ levels of cortisol, a hormone linked to stress. The team also will measure the family members’ sleep patterns by having them wear devices similar to wristwatches that track their movements while in bed.

“It’s hard for kids to express how they feel,” said Beidel, “Boys are told not to be emotional, not to be scared, and even young boys learn how to filter those emotions. But you can’t filter your cortisol and you can’t filter your sleep. Those are objective measures that are not colored by society’s expectations or how you should feel.”

Beidel’s team is looking for Central Florida families that have a deployed caregiver in any branch of the military and at least one child 7 to 17 years old. The caregiver at home does not have to be a mother or father, but does have to be a primary caregiver. Military families that do not have anyone currently deployed are also needed as part of the study.

For more information, call 407-823-3910 or go to