Long Term Effects of CBT for PTSD

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, cognitive-behavior treatments (CBT) may provide long-term improvements for PTSD and related symptoms. CBTs such as Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Prolonged Exposure (PE) have already been shown to be effective and are considered some of the “first line treatments” for PTSD. However, the important question of CBT’s long term efficacy for PTSD has not been explored as deeply, as follow ups typically occur only three to six months after treatment.

The current study compares the long term outcomes of CPT and PE for PTSD in female rape survivors. The original study measured symptoms of women suffering from PTSD (n=171), before and after receiving either CPT or PE. This long term follow up, from 4.5 to 10 years later (M = 6.15), includes 73.7% of the original sample following initial treatments (n= 126) of CPT (n= 63) or PE (n=63). Researchers used the PTSD Symptom Scale (PSS), the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS) to measure PTSD symptoms. Of those allocated to CPT, 46 completed the therapy, 10 received some therapy, and 7 did not start. Of those allocated to PE, 44 completed the therapy, 13 received some therapy, and 6 did not start.

Participants who received both cognitive therapies (CPT and PE) showed significant improvements in PTSD and related symptoms from pre- to post-treatment. There was no marked significance in the difference between the two samples receiving treatment. During the long term follow up, there was an impressive amount of maintenance of these improvements in symptoms. At pre-treatment assessment, 100% of participants had met criteria for PTSD; however, at the long term follow up only 22.2% of participants in the CPT group and 17.5% in the PE group met criteria for PTSD. In addition, there was no further psychotherapy or medication use reported which could have otherwise accounted for the long term efficacy of these treatments.

Female rape survivors in this study benefitted significantly from a lasting improvement in PTSD symptoms. Although further research and replication studies are needed, these findings suggest that CBT may be effective for years following initial treatment.

Resick, Patricia A., Williams, Lauren F., Suvak, Michael K., Monson, Candice M., & Gradus, Jaimie L. (2012). Long-term outcomes of cognitive–behavioral treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder among female rape survivors. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 80(2) 201-210.

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Beck Institute will offer a 3-day workshop on CBT for PTSD on September 10-12, 2012, in Philadelphia. A limited number of spaces remain.

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