Psychotherapy Utilization, Preferences, and Retention among Women Veterans with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Womens Health Issues. 2020 Sep-Oct;30(5):366-373. doi: 10.1016/j.whi.2020.06.003. Epub 2020 Jul 14.


Background: Psychotherapy is the gold standard treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), yet psychotherapy use and retention among veterans is low. Little is known about the barriers to care and factors associated with women veterans' PTSD psychotherapy use and retention. Using a nationally representative sample of 986 women Veterans Health Administration primary care users with PTSD and a perceived need for mental health care, we examined 1) the proportion of women who used psychotherapy, 2) retention in psychotherapy among women who used any psychotherapy, and 3) individual factors related to psychotherapy use and retention.

Methods: Women completed a survey on their mental health care experiences. Outpatient mental health care use in the year before the survey was obtained from Veterans Health Administration administrative data.

Results: Most women (79.1%) used psychotherapy, and 41.7% of those women had a minimal therapeutic dose of psychotherapy (≥8 visits). Mental health diagnostic comorbidity and being African American/Black or identifying as neither African American/Black nor White were significantly associated with higher psychotherapy use. Mental health diagnostic comorbidity, exposure to military sexual trauma, and receiving treatment aligned with gender-related and group-related preferences were associated with higher psychotherapy retention. Being a parent was associated with lower retention.

Conclusions: Although a significant proportion of women veterans with PTSD are using psychotherapy, retention is enhanced when women are able to obtain treatment aligned with their preferences. Thus, efforts to promote patient-centered, shared decisions regarding mental health treatment options could increase the efficacy and efficiency of treatment for PTSD among women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychotherapy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Retention in Care*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs / statistics & numerical data
  • Veterans / psychology*
  • Young Adult