Background: Department of Veterans Affairs Cooperative Study 420 is a randomized clinical trial of 2 methods of group psychotherapy for treating posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in male Vietnam veterans.
Methods: Vietnam veterans (360 men) were randomly assigned to receive trauma-focused group psychotherapy or a present-centered comparison treatment that avoided trauma focus. Treatment was provided weekly to groups of 6 members for 30 weeks, followed by 5 monthly booster sessions. Severity of PTSD was the primary outcome. Additional measures were other psychiatric symptoms, functional status, quality of life, physical health, and service utilization. Follow-up assessments were conducted at the end of treatment (7 months) and at the end of the booster sessions (12 months); 325 individuals participated in 1 or both assessments. Additional follow-up for PTSD severity was performed in a subset of participants at 18 and 24 months.
Results: Although posttreatment assessments of PTSD severity and other measures were significantly improved from baseline, intention-to-treat analyses found no overall differences between therapy groups on any outcome. Analyses of data from participants who received an adequate dose of treatment suggested that trauma-focused group therapy reduced avoidance and numbing and, possibly, PTSD symptoms. Dropout from treatment was higher in trauma-focused group treatment. Average improvement was modest in both treatments, although approximately 40% of participants showed clinically significant change.
Conclusions: This study did not find a treatment effect for trauma-focused group therapy. The difference between the effectiveness and adequate dose findings suggests the possible value of methods to enhance the delivery of cognitive-behavioral treatments in clinical practice settings.