Study Suggests Shorter Duration Group-Based Exposure Therapy Effective Treatment for Veterans with PTSD
Although a large body of empirical evidence supports the efficacy of individually-administered exposure therapy for PTSD, there are few studies of group-based approaches to exposure therapy. Group-Based Exposure Therapy (GBET) is an intensive group treatment that targets PTSD symptoms through repeated imaginal and in-vivo exposure. GBET's group format provides Veterans with the opportunity to give supportive feedback immediately before and after imaginal exposures, and allows group members to model successful completion of these exposure exercises for one another. This study assessed the feasibility and acceptability of a modified 12-week course of GBET — vs. the full 16-week GBET protocol — and examined its preliminary effectiveness in reducing Veterans' PTSD symptoms. Investigators recruited 10 male Iraq War (n=3) and Vietnam War (n=7) Veterans, who were enrolled in one VA PTSD specialty clinic. Veterans attended a post-treatment assessment two weeks after conclusion of treatment, in addition to a follow-up assessment three months later. Measures included: Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (30-item semi-structured clinical interview), PTSD Checklist (17-item self-report measure), and the Post-traumatic Cognitions Inventory (identifies negative trauma-related thoughts and beliefs). Investigators also assessed Veterans' satisfaction with treatment.
- Although future study is needed to directly compare the benefits of a 12-week vs. 16-week GBET protocol, preliminary results show that the abbreviated 12-week GBET model was effective in reducing PTSD symptoms.
- Veterans' PTSD symptom severity significantly decreased over the course of treatment, and 7 of the 10 Veterans no longer met criteria for PTSD at post-treatment. Overall, Veterans maintained improvements at 3-month follow-up.
- Participants indicated a high level of treatment satisfaction, and the group maintained a 100% retention rate.
- The authors suggest that these findings are particularly encouraging given that study participants were combat Veterans who reported histories of multiple traumatic events.
- The study cohort was small, and findings are preliminary.
- Referring clinicians were aware of the study rationale and procedures for GBET, and may have referred patients who were highly motivated for treatment.
Dr. Mott is part of HSR&D's Houston Center for Quality of Care and Utilization Studies.
Sutherland R, Mott J, Lanier S, et al. A Pilot Study of a 12-Week Model of Group-Based Exposure Therapy for Veterans with PTSD. Journal of Traumatic Stress April 2012;25(2):150-56.