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NLM Director’s Comments Transcript
Couples Therapy Helps PTSD Patients: 09/24/2012

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Greetings from the National Library of Medicine and

Regards to all our listeners!

I'm Rob Logan, Ph.D. senior staff National Library of Medicine for Donald Lindberg, M.D, the Director of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

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Behavioral therapy involving a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patient and his/her partner may reduce the disorder’s severity and enhance the couple’s relationship, suggests an innovative study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study found cognitive behavioral therapy for couples resulted in a 23 percent reduction in the severity of one participant’s PTSD symptoms compared to a control where one patient had PTSD and couple therapy was postponed. The study’s authors explain cognitive behavioral therapy combines efforts to boost knowledge about PTSD with remedial actions, such as enhancing interpersonal communication skills. PTSD severity was measured using a widely available clinically-based scale; the same scale determined eligibility for the study’s PTSD patients.

Among 40 participating couples, the study’s six authors randomly assigned cognitive behavioral therapy or placed others on a therapy waiting list. All PTSD patients in the study (which took place in Boston and Toronto from 2008-2012) continued to take psychiatric medications, if needed. All participants were assessed four times, including a follow-up three months after the intervention and control periods ended.

The intervention group received 15 sessions of couples-specific cognitive behavioral therapy. In a nice gesture, the control (or waiting list) group received the same therapy once the study was completed.

In addition to statistically significant reductions in PTSD severity, there was a 9.5 percent comparative, significant improvement in self-reported satisfaction with intimate relationships among the PTSD patients who received therapy.

Candice Monson Ph.D., a University of Toronto psychologist and the study’s lead author, told HealthDay (and we quote): ‘Couple treatment improved PTSD symptoms and relationship satisfaction. These outcomes were maintained at the three month follow-up’ (end of quote).

The study’s authors note the research is among the first to systematically assess the impact of PTSD therapy on couples instead of a patient. The authors explain prior research suggested the possibility that couples-oriented therapy might provide an alternative strategy to reduce PTSD’s severity.

Although the authors note the findings suggest the reductions in PTSD severity are similar to individual patient therapy, the authors add couples therapy may boost the quality of a relationship, which yields an additional benefit.

The authors conclude (and we quote): ‘Cognitive-behavioral conjoint therapy may be used to efficiently address individual and relational dimensions of traumatization and might be indicated for individuals with PTSD who have stable relationships and partners willing to engage in treatment with them’ (end of quote).’s post-traumatic stress disorder health topic page explains PTSD is a condition that occurs after living through or seeing a traumatic event, such as a war, hurricane, rape, physical abuse, or a bad accident.

PTSD may cause problems, such as: flashbacks, nightmares and problems sleeping, feeling alone, angry outbursts, and becoming worried, guilty, or sad.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates about seven to eight percent of the U.S. population will develop PTSD at some point in their lives. About 10 percent of women experience PTSD compared to about five percent of men. The VA reports about 5.2 million American adults have PTSD each year.’s post-traumatic stress disorder health topic page explains clinically supervised talk therapy commonly is used to treat individual PTSD patients. A description of talk therapy options for PTSD patients (from the Sidran Institute) is provided in the ‘treatment’ section of’s post-traumatic stress disorder health topic page.

A comprehensive review of treatment options that includes cognitive behavioral and couples therapy (from the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury) also is available in the ‘treatment’ section.

A website that explains the impact of PTSD on family members is available in the ‘related issues’ section of’s post-traumatic stress disorder health topic page.’s post-traumatic stress disorder health topic page additionally contains links to the latest pertinent journal research articles, which are available in the ‘journal articles’ section. Links to related clinical trials that may be occurring in your area are available in the ‘clinical trials’ section. From the post-traumatic stress disorder health topic page, you can sign up to receive email updates with links to new information as it becomes available on MedlinePlus.

To find’s post-traumatic stress disorder health topic page, type ‘PTSD’ in the search box on’s home page, then, click on ‘Post-traumatic stress disorder (National Library of Medicine).’


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