Guilt in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder among active duty military personnel.

McLean, C. P., Zandberg, L., Brown, L., Zang, Y., Benhamou, K., Dondanville, K. A., Yarvis, J. S., Litz, B. T., Mintz, J., Young-McCaughan, S., Peterson, A. L., & Foa, E. B., for the STRONG STAR Consortium.
Jul 29, 2019

Journal of Traumatic Stress, 32(4), 616-624.

The current study examined the role of trauma-related guilt on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptom change during prolonged exposure therapy (PE) as well as the efficacy of PE in reducing three dimensions of guilt (responsibility, wrongdoing, and lack of justification) during treatment. Participants were 331 active duty U.S. military personnel seeking treatment for PTSD who were randomized to one of four groups: massed PE (10 sessions delivered over 2 weeks), spaced PE (10 sessions delivered over 8 weeks), present-centered therapy (PCT; 10 sessions delivered over 8 weeks), or minimal contact control (MCC; weekly therapist phone check-in for 4 weeks). The results showed that baseline guilt did not predict reductions in PTSD symptoms for spaced PE or for PCT, ps = .178–.387, ds = -0.02–0.07. Treatment condition (massed PE vs. MCC; spaced PE vs. PCT) did not moderate reductions in guilt for spaced PE versus PCT. Guilt decreased significantly over treatment in all groups, p < .001 to p = .038, ds = -0.19 to –0.42, except concerning justification in the spaced PE and PCT groups, p = .140, d = -0.10. The findings suggest that guilt may be reduced significantly following active PTSD treatment and attention control and that PTSD recovery is not impacted by baseline levels of trauma-related guilt in military personnel with PTSD, although reported levels of guilt were low to moderate in this sample.

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