Multi-Couple Group Intervention for PTSD


Obtain preliminary data on the feasibility and efficacy of delivering couple-based treatment for PTSD within a multiple-couple group setting during a weekend retreat; evaluate the therapy’s impact on the severity of service members’ and veterans’ PTSD symptoms and co-occurring conditions, partners’ psychological well-being, and each partner’s relationship satisfaction.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a life-disrupting, frequently chronic condition that can cause devastating relationship problems. Intimate relationship difficulties can also interfere with recovery from PTSD. Numerous studies have documented an association between PTSD symptoms and impaired intimate relationship functioning in military and veteran couples, including relationship distress, physical and psychological aggression, and partner psychological distress.

Previous research has demonstrated that cognitive-behavioral conjoint therapy for PTSD (CBCT for PTSD), a couple-based therapy designed specifically for PTSD, is efficacious in simultaneously treating PTSD and co-occurring symptoms and improving intimate relationship functioning. However, the standard format of fifteen 75-minute sessions over 15 weeks presents challenges for large-scale dissemination of the treatment for active duty service members and veterans.

In this pilot study conducted through the Consortium to Alleviate PTSD, principal investigator Steffany J. Fredman, PhD, of the Pennsylvania State University and her research team will deliver a version of CBCT for PTSD in which session content is taught in an accelerated, multi-couple group format over a weekend.

Participants in the pilot study will be recruited at and around the U.S. Army’s Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, and must include an active-duty service member or veteran diagnosed with PTSD and in a committed, partnered relationship. Both members of the couple must be available to participate in intensive treatment delivered over one weekend.

How the study works

Twenty-four couples will attend 12-hour, retreat-style workshops over the course of a weekend at a hotel about an hour away from Fort Hood in Austin, Texas. There will be seven weekend retreats, and six couples will be treated at each retreat.

Therapists with extensive experience working with active duty service members and veterans with PTSD in the context of the STRONG STAR Consortium will lead the workshops. They will provide couples with an understanding of how PTSD and intimate relationships affect one another and guide the couples in ways to think, feel, and behave differently in order to improve the service member’s or veteran’s PTSD symptoms, the couples’ relationship health, and the partners’ psychological well-being.

If the pilot study proves successful, the research team hopes to conduct a randomized controlled trial of accelerated CBCT for PTSD through a larger study funded by the U.S. Department of Defense or Department of Veterans Affairs.

Expected benefits

The investigators believe that accelerated delivery of cognitive behavioral conjoint therapy has the potential for rapid dissemination and implementation, while capturing the majority of the benefits of the original therapy format. It is also expected that providing the therapy in a non-military, non-VA setting will reduce the stigma of seeking mental health care. An added expected benefit is that participating in a program with other couples will provide social support for couples coping with the effects of PTSD.

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