Effect of group vs individual cognitive processing therapy in active-duty military seeking treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder: A randomized clinical trial

STRONG STAR Consortium Group

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IMPORTANCE: Cognitive processing therapy (CPT), an evidence-based treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), has not been tested as an individual treatment among active-duty military. Group CPT may be an efficient way to deliver treatment. OBJECTIVE: To determine the effects of CPT on PTSD and co-occurring symptoms and whether they differ when administered in an individual or a group format. DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: In this randomized clinical trial, 268 active-duty servicemembers consented to assessment at an army medical center from March 8, 2012, to September 23, 2014, and were randomized to group or individual CPT. Inclusion criteria were PTSD after military deployment and stable medication therapy. Exclusion criteria consisted of suicidal or homicidal intent or psychosis. Data collection was completed on June 15, 2015. Analysis was based on intention to treat. INTERVENTIONS: Participants received CPT (the version excluding written accounts) in 90-minute group sessions of 8 to 10 participants (15 cohorts total; 133 participants) or 60-minute individual sessions (135 participants) twice weekly for 6 weeks. The 12 group and individual sessions were conducted concurrently. MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Primary measures were scores on the Posttraumatic Symptom Scale-Interview Version (PSS-I) and the stressor-specific Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist (PCL-S); secondary measures were scores on the Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II) and the Beck Scale for Suicidal Ideation (BSSI). Assessments were completed by independent evaluators masked to treatment condition at baseline and 2 weeks and 6 months after treatment. RESULTS :Amongthe 268 participants (244 men [91.0%]; 24women [9.0%]; mean [SD] age, 33.2 [7.4] years), improvement in PTSD severity at posttreatment was greater when CPT was administered individually compared with the group format (mean [SE] difference on the PSS-I, -3.7 [1.4]; Cohen d = 0.6; P =.006). Significant improvements were maintained with the individual (mean [SE] PSS-I, -7.8 [1.0]; Cohen d = 1.3; mean [SE] PCL-S, -12.6 [1.4]; Cohen d = 1.2) and group (mean [SE] PSS-I, -4.0 [0.97]; Cohen d = 0.7; mean [SE] PCL-S, -6.3 [1.4]; Cohen d = 0.6) formats, with no differences in remission or severity of PTSD at the 6-month follow-up. Symptoms of depression and suicidal ideation did not differ significantly between formats. CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: Individual treatment resulted in greater improvement in PTSD severity than group treatment. Depression and suicidal ideation improved equally with both formats. However, even amongthose receiving individual CPT, approximately 50% still had PTSD and clinically significant symptoms. In the military population, improving existing treatments such as CPT or developing new treatments is needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)28-36
Number of pages9
JournalJAMA Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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