New Study: Couple’s Therapy Reduced PTSD Symptom Severity and Improved Relationship Satisfaction

Rebecca Lewis June 11, 2020

 A couple, in which one partner suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, may benefit from undergoing couple’s therapy. In a study published in JAMA today, it was found that couple’s therapy helped reduce the severity of symptoms associated with PTSD and improve patient relationship satisfaction.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a behavioural illness that is categorised under anxiety disorder, which usually occurs as a result of suffering from an extremely frightening, life-threatening or highly perilous experience. A person with PTSD develops a wide range of symptoms such as phobia in certain things, sounds, or places, sleeping problems, poor concentration, mental blackout, high anxiety levels, and other mental disturbances. At present, the most common treatment for this condition is psychotherapy. But even though it addresses most of the symptoms, individual psychotherapies for PSTD do not seem to help improve the intimate relationship of patients. Furthermore, negative interpersonal relations can produce worse treatment outcomes even though the patient receives a highly sophisticated individual psychotherapy, according to the study background.

Couples therapy for people with PTSD

A group of researchers from the Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada, headed by Dr Candice M. Monson, studied the effects of cognitive-behavioural conjoint therapy (CBCT) to patients with PTSD. The said therapy was designed not just to alleviate the symptoms, but also to enhance the couples’ intimate relationships. The study, which lasted for four years (2008-2012), involved 40 homosexual and heterosexual couples. In each couple, one partner has been diagnosed with PTSD.  Some of couples were randomly assigned to undergo CBCT. Others on the other hand, were placed on the wait list.

The results showed that the symptom severity, as well as the intimate relationship satisfaction in couples who had CBCT improved significantly, as compared to those in the wait list. Moreover, the change ratios from the pre-therapy to post-therapy indicated that the severity of PTSD symptoms reduced by almost 3 times in the CBCT group. They also reported improvement in the secondary outcomes of anger expression symptoms, general anxiety, and depression. Said couples also reported a raise in their intimate relationship satisfaction 4 times more than those in the wait list.

The researchers conducted a three-month follow-up in the participants and found that the benefits were still present. They also mentioned in the study that the benefits of couple’s therapy were significant regardless of the sex, type of trauma experienced, and sexual orientation of the participants.

Monson and her colleagues believe that the evidences obtained in their research show that cognitive-behavioural conjoint therapy is a better course of treatment than the individual psychotherapy particularly in the case of PTSD.

"The results of the trials by Mills et al and Monson et al are important scientific attempts to study new options for treatment of PTSD.” said Lisa M. Najavits, Ph.D., of the Boston University School of Medicine and Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System on her comments. But because the field of PTSD therapy is still young, the discovery of clinically more meaningful treatments is still an ongoing challenge, she added.

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