Ep. 32: Dr. Mark Powers — The Best Tested Ways to Treat Anxiety and Trauma

Countless individuals experience debilitating anxiety or major trauma that can lead to conditions like posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). My guest this week is psychologist Dr. Mark Powers, who specializes in research on the treatment of anxiety and PTSD. I’ve always respected Mark’s rich training on these conditions and his knowledge of the research findings, which he shares in this episode.

We touched on topics including:

  • The definition of trauma
  • The similarity of symptoms across different types of trauma (e.g., combat, physical assault, natural disaster)
  • How the diagnosis of PTSD was developed
  • The advantages and disadvantages of defining what “counts” as a PTSD-type trauma
  • Variations in treatment required for treating complex PTSD
  • Common physical, mental, and emotional responses to trauma
  • The high prevalence of trauma at some point in a person’s life
  • Our need to make sense of our experiences, and the difficulty in processing traumatic events
  • The difference between stress and anxiety
  • The positive side of stress
  • How the body can get stuck in the stress response
  • Importance of education about trauma reactions in treatment
  • The challenge of interpersonal trauma
  • The effectiveness of exposure treatment in decreasing fear and changing our thoughts
  • The importance of personal agency during exposure treatment
  • Similarities and differences between anxiety treatment and PTSD treatment
  • Experimental models of PTSD
  • Cognitive processing therapy, Prolonged Exposure, and EMDR
  • The therapeutic effect of telling the story of one’s trauma
  • The therapeutic effects of exercise and vagus nerve stimulation

Mark B. Powers, PhD, is the Director of Trauma Research at Baylor Scott & White Health, running federally funded projects at two Level 1 Trauma Centers. He is also conducting research on pain reduction and virtual reality at Dell Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas.

In addition to conducting research, Mark is a licensed clinical psychologist. He completed his PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, and a pre-doctoral fellowship at Boston University and Harvard Medical School.

Mark was an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Amsterdam for two years studying exposure augmentation strategies, followed by a position an Assistant Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (where Mark and I met), focusing on research in OCD and PTSD. He then joined the faculty  at Southern Methodist University before moving to the University of Texas at Austin.

Mark is currently the Chair of the APA Division 12 Presidential Task Force on Empirically Supported Treatment Dissemination, and is a member of the Scientific Council at the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. He conducts international workshops in ERP for OCD and PE for PTSD.

Mark is prolific in his research output, with over 150 publications. He is also Editor-in-Chief of the journal Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Some of Mark’s most-cited research studies include:

A meta-analytic review of prolonged exposure for posttraumatic stress disorder

Exercise interventions for mental health: A quantitative and qualitative review

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: A meta-analytic review

Cognitive-behavioral therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder: a meta-analysis of treatment outcome and moderators

Find Mark online at Baylor’s website as well as through Google Scholar.

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