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Behav Res Ther. 2008 Feb;46(2):207-18. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2007.11.005. Epub 2007 Nov 22.

Expressed emotion and causal attributions in relatives of post-traumatic stress disorder patients.

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Division of Clinical Psychology, School of Psychological Sciences, University of Manchester, Unit 4, Ground Floor, Rutherford House, Manchester Science Park, Lloyd Street North, Manchester M15 6SZ, UK.


This study investigates the relationship between expressed emotion (EE) and causal attributions in relatives of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients, and examines the contributions of EE and attributions to patient outcomes. Thirty-eight relatives of patients with PTSD participating in a treatment trial were assessed on EE, causal attributions for patient problems and nature of attributions. Patients' PTSD symptoms at 6 and 12 months were assessed. Criticism and hostility in relatives were associated with attributing problems to factors controllable by patients. Relatives with marked emotional over-involvement (EOI) had an attributional profile similar to low EE relatives. Deficits in normal behaviour ("negative symptoms") were perceived as more controllable, internal and stable than were more obvious signs of an illness or mental health problem such as hypervigilance and intrusive thoughts and nightmares ("positive symptoms"). Irritability or anger was perceived as more controllable and personal than any other problem. Hostility was associated with less psychological understanding. EE (hostility) but not attributions was found to predict clinical outcome. The results are consistent with previous studies of relatives of schizophrenia patients. The study suggests a need for interventions, which focus on helping relatives to reappraise the impact of PTSD.

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