Comparative effectiveness of evidence-based psychotherapies for PTSD delivered in VA residential PTSD treatment

Psychol Med. 2023 Mar 27;1-8. doi: 10.1017/S0033291723000375. Online ahead of print.


Background: Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Prolonged Exposure (PE) are first-line treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There have been few direct comparisons of CPT and PE intended to determine their comparative effectiveness, none of which have examined outcomes among military veterans receiving these treatments in a residential setting such as the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) residential rehabilitation treatment programs (RRTPs). Such work is essential given that these veterans are among the most complex and severely symptomatic patients with PTSD treated in VA. In this study we compared changes in PTSD and depressive symptoms across admission, discharge, four months and 12 months following discharge among veterans who received CPT or PE within VA RRTPs.

Methods: Using linear mixed models conducted on program evaluation data derived from the electronic medical record and follow-up surveys, we compared self-reported PTSD and depressive symptom outcomes among 1130 veterans with PTSD who were treated with individual CPT (n = 832, 73.5%) or PE (n = 297, 26.5%) in VA PTSD RRTPs in fiscal years 2018-2020.

Results: PTSD and depressive symptom severity did not significantly differ at any time points. The CPT and PE groups both showed large-sized reductions in PTSD (CPT d = 1.41, PE d = 1.51) and depression (CPT d = 1.01, PE d = 1.09) from baseline to 12-month follow-up.

Conclusions: Outcomes for PE and CPT do not differ among a highly complex population of veterans with severe PTSD and several comorbid conditions that can make it difficult to engage in treatment.

Keywords: Cognitive processing therapy; empirically-supported treatment; posttraumatic stress disorder; prolonged exposure; treatment outcome; veteran.