Treating Veterans at Risk for Suicide: An Examination of the Safety, Tolerability, and Outcomes of Cognitive Processing Therapy

Erika M. Roberge, Julia A. Harris, Harrison R. Weinstein, David C. Rozek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations

Abstract

Individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are at increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors; however, clinicians often report apprehension about recommending trauma-focused therapy to patients with an increased risk of suicide. The present study aimed to evaluate the safety, tolerability, and response to cognitive processing therapy (CPT) among a sample of military veterans with PTSD and increased suicide risk. A secondary aim was to provide a clinically useful definition of high suicide risk. Chart review was used to classify the suicide risk level of 290 veterans who participated in CPT at a Veterans Affairs clinic. Treatment outcomes in veterans with different suicide risk levels were also gathered and compared. Over 50% (n = 155) of the sample demonstrated increased suicide risk, and 1.0% (n = 3) engaged in suicidal behavior after initiating treatment. To date, hospital records show no suicide deaths since 2016 among clinic patients who received CPT. Suicide risk level was not associated with CPT tolerability, and PTSD symptom change was equivalent across groups, ps =.085–.976. Veterans across groups reported clinically significant reductions in PTSD symptoms. The tested suicide risk categorization schemes performed similarly in differentiating the odds of CPT completion and PTSD symptom reduction. These results suggest that veterans with PTSD and an increased risk of suicide, including those with previous suicide attempts and current ideation, can tolerate and benefit from CPT. Additional variables must be considered to truly determine the acute and imminent suicide risk that would deem CPT to be contraindicated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1228-1237
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Traumatic Stress
Volume34
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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