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JAMA. 2012 Aug 15;308(7):700-9. doi: 10.1001/jama.2012.9307.

Effect of cognitive-behavioral couple therapy for PTSD: a randomized controlled trial.

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  • 1Ryerson University, Department of Psychology, 350 Victoria Ave, Toronto, ON M5B 2K3, Canada.



Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a prevalent condition associated with intimate relationship problems, and intimate relationship factors have been shown to affect individual PTSD treatment outcomes.


To compare cognitive-behavioral conjoint therapy for PTSD (a manualized couple therapy delivered to patients with PTSD and their significant others to simultaneously treat PTSD symptoms and enhance relationship satisfaction) with a wait-list condition.


Randomized controlled trial of heterosexual and same-sex couples (n = 40 couples; n = 80 individuals) in which one partner met criteria for PTSD according to the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale, conducted from 2008 to 2012 in a Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient hospital setting in Boston, Massachusetts, and a university-based research center in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Symptoms of PTSD, comorbid conditions, and relationship satisfaction were collected by blinded assessors at baseline, at mid treatment (median, 8.00 weeks [range, 1.71-20.43 weeks] after baseline), and at posttreatment (median, 15.86 weeks [range, 7.14-38.57 weeks] after baseline). An uncontrolled 3-month follow-up (median, 38.21 weeks [range, 28.43-50.57 weeks] after baseline) was also completed.


Couples were randomly assigned to take part in the 15-session cognitive-behavioral conjoint therapy for PTSD protocol immediately (n = 20) or were placed on a wait list for the therapy (n = 20).


Clinician-rated PTSD symptom severity was the primary outcome and was assessed with the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale. Intimate relationship satisfaction, assessed with the Dyadic Adjustment Scale, patient- and partner-rated PTSD symptoms, and comorbid symptoms were secondary outcomes.


PTSD symptom severity (score range, 0-136) was significantly more improved in the couple therapy condition than in the wait-list condition (mean change difference, -23.21; 95% CI, -37.87 to -8.55). Similarly, patients' intimate relationship satisfaction (score range, 0-151) was significantly more improved in couple therapy than in the wait-list condition (mean change difference, 9.43; 95% CI, 0.04-18.83). The time × condition interaction effect in the multilevel model predicting PTSD symptoms (t37.5 = -3.09; P = .004) and patient-reported relationship satisfaction (t68.5 = 2.00; P = .049) revealed superiority of the couple therapy compared with the wait list. Treatment effects were maintained at 3-month follow-up.


Among couples in which one partner was diagnosed as having PTSD, a disorder-specific couple therapy, compared with a wait list for the therapy, resulted in decreased PTSD symptom severity and patient comorbid symptom severity and increased patient relationship satisfaction.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: Identifier: NCT00669981.

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