Outcomes of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Interventions for US Military Personnel

A serious female army veteran gestures as she describes symptoms to a female doctor. They are wearing protective face masks amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Researchers studied trauma-focused written exposure therapy (WET) treatment and time-intensive trauma-focused cognitive processing therapy (CPT) treatment for active-duty service members diagnosed with PTSD.

Findings of a study published in JAMA Network Open suggest written exposure therapy (WET) to be a more efficient treatment approach for posttraumatic stress disorder than cognitive processing therapy (CPT).

Active-duty United States military personnel (N=169) stationed at 2 bases in Texas seeking treatment for PTSD were recruited for this study between 2016 and 2020. Participants were randomized to receive cognitive processing therapy (n=84) or written exposure therapy (n=85). CPT comprised 12 biweekly 1-hour sessions which focused on trauma using progressive worksheets. WET comprised 5 weekly 45 minute to hour-long sessions during which time the participant wrote for 30 minutes about their trauma and the therapist checked whether the patient had any challenges completing the task.

The military personnel were 80.5% men, aged mean 33.65 (standard deviation [SD], 8.43) years, 34.9% were White, 33.7% were Black, 24.9% were Hispanic, 76.9% were married, 61.5% had some college, 0.7% had never been deployed, and they had been in the military for 155.31 (SD, 89.84) months.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) PTSD Scale scores were 36.71 (SD, 1.12) and 34.24 (SD, 1.13) at baseline for the WET and CPT cohorts, respectively. At 10 weeks, PTSD Scale scores had changed by -5.16 (SD, 1.17) and -9.12 (SD, 1.28) points for each group, respectively. By week 30, there was little difference in the score changes between cohorts (difference, 0.33; standard error [SE], 2.58).

At week 30, 37.5% of the CPT and 47.2% of the WET participants exhibited a reliable change in PTSD severity, as defined by a 12-point change in Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale for DSM-5 score.

Most participants (54%) experienced adverse events. The events were primarily psychiatric symptoms of anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbances.

CPT recipients were more likely to drop out of the study (45.2% vs 23.5%; odds ratio [OR], 2.69; 95% CI, 1.39-5.20).

This study was limited by its relatively high drop-out rate and the lack of long-term outcomes.

The study authors concluded, “the option of a brief PTSD treatment is likely to be of high value in the military setting, where military service operations may limit treatment engagement. One clear pattern of findings in this study is the high variability of treatment outcomes among service members. Better understanding of the factors associated with who does and who does not benefit from PTSD treatment is an important direction for the field.”

Disclosure: Multiple authors declared affiliations with industry. Please refer to the original article for a full list of disclosures.


Sloan DM, Marx BP, Resick PA, et al. Effect of written exposure therapy vs cognitive processing therapy on increasing treatment efficiency among military service members with post-traumatic stress disorder: a randomized noninferiority trial. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(1):e2140911. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.40911