First-line Psychotherapies for Military-Related PTSD
Maria M. Steenkamp, PhD1; Brett T. Litz, PhD2,3; Charles R. Marmar, MD4
Published online January 30, 2020
Two well-established first-line cognitive-behavioral psychotherapies for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), prolonged exposure therapy (PE) and cognitive processing therapy (CPT), are used in the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and US Department of Defense (DoD) based chiefly on good outcomes in randomized clinical trials (RCTs) with civilians. PE and CPT are manualized (ie, protocolized in a session-by-session manner) trauma-focused therapies that are based on processing the emotional and cognitive aspects of the traumatic event.
Consequently, these treatments are emotionally demanding for patients because PTSD is characterized by a strong motivation to avoid talking about the trauma and rekindling negative emotions associated with it. The prominence of PE and CPT in treating individuals with military-related PTSD has been increasingly challenged in recent years because RCTs of veterans and military personnel have yielded mixed results, with patients often not obtaining clinically meaningful symptom improvement.
These findings have led to questions about the extent to which these therapies should be prioritized and how military-related PTSD is best conceptualized, namely as a disorder that can be reliably managed by brief (approximately 12 session) monotherapies or as a highly complex and multiform condition requiring more individualized and comprehensive intervention.
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