Background: Few studies have shown that maladaptive beliefs relate to treatment outcome.
Method: In a randomized controlled study, 87 patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) had exposure therapy alone or cognitive restructuring alone, or both combined, or relaxation. Independent blind assessors assessed patients at pre-, mid- and post-treatment and at follow-up; at those times patients rated cognitive, behavioural and emotional aspects of their disorder.
Results: Baseline beliefs about mistrust, helplessness, meaninglessness and unjustness of the world related to baseline PTSD symptoms but did not predict treatment outcome, though improvement in certain beliefs correlated with more symptom improvement. Several 'key' beliefs changed after, and none before, symptoms improved. At post-treatment, sense of control and attribution of gains to personal efforts predicted maintenance of gains at follow-up.
Conclusions: Baseline beliefs and improvement in beliefs did not predict outcome. Post-treatment sense of control/internal attribution predicted maintenance of gains at follow-up. How much sense of control is produced by or causes improvement deserves testing.