A recent study published in JAMA states that a researcher at Ryerson University has identified a successful way to treat people with post traumatic stress disorder and their partners by using a specific couple therapy. This particular kind of therapy can reduce symptoms and improve couples’ relationships.

It has been previously shown in research that PTSD is a mental health condition that can place an enormous strain on intimate relationships. There are several effective individual psychotherapies available to treat PTSD, but little to no evidence showing that these treatments improve relationships.

Dr. Candice Monson, a professor at Ryerson University’s Department of Psychology and the lead author of this new study says: “Now, there is increasing recognition that intimate relationships can play a vital role in the path to recovery for those with PTSD, and that relationships can improve along that path.”

PTSD is usually caused by a psychologically traumatic event involving real or threatened injury to oneself or others. In Canada, PTSD is the most common mental health problem found in adults and children; it affects approximately 1 in 10 people, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Similarly, in the U.S., 6.8 percent of adults have experienced PTSD at least once in their lifetimes, as noted by The National Center for PTSD.

Dr. Monson and co-authors collaborated on a four-year study (2008-2012) involving forty couples, in which one partner had been diagnosed with PTSD, who were treated in one of two sites – either the Department of Veteran Affairs outpatient hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, or the Ryerson University Psychology Research and Training Center in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Only couples who had not demontrated aggression towards their partner, had no suicidal tendencies or intense psychotic behavior, and were in remission for substance dependency during the previous three months were considered for the study.

The couples, ranging in ages from 18 to 70, were randomly split into two groups. Both groups were able to continue with their psychoapharmacological regimen and non PTSD related psychotherapy.

One group received cognitive-behavioral conjoint therapy for PTSD (CBCT), a new treatment developed by Dr. Monson and Dr. Fredman.

The other group was put on a three month wait list in order to receive the same treatment. All of the volunteers were evaluated at the beginning of the study, mid-treatment, and post treatment. Couples who received CBCT were assessed after three months of treatment.

CBCT treatment is specifically designed to reduce PTSD symptoms and improve intimate relationships. It consists of 15 sessions over 3 phases. Couples met with a therapist twice a week for the first two phases, followed by one session per week during the final phase.

Findings showed that 81 percent of couples who received CBCT showed a significant improvement with their PTSD symptoms. Sixty-two percent of couples reported a significant improvement in their relationship and these advances were maintained months after treatment. Those couples who received treatment also reported having fewer feelings of depression, anger and anxiety.

The next step of advancement is to compare individual therapy to CBCT. There is a current study underway measuring this with active duty service members and their partners as a part of the Strong Star Research Consortium. Current clinicians in the U.S. Army and Air Force are being educated in CBCT.

Dr. Monson concluded:

“Given how PTSD affects and is affected by intimate relationships, it is important to think beyond the individual to provide the most efficient and effective outcomes possible. In this case, a single therapy holds promise of providing multiple positive outcomes to trauma survivors and their loved ones.”

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald