The interdependence of individual and family adjustment can lead to a negatively spiraling process. As individual distress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms worsen, it is likely to increase problems for the family, and as family difficulties increase, it is likely to exacerbate individual distress. Importantly, this process can also work in a positive direction. When families are able to provide a safe, stable environment for the returning Service members, they can help to promote a more positive adjustment process, and when Service members are able to reach out and reconnect with family members, it can strengthen the family structure.
Several treatments have been proposed or developed to address the needs of families following trauma. Some are focused on relieving family distress rather than focusing on a particular individual's PTSD symptoms. Alternatively, other programs focus on the role of the partner and family members in helping the trauma survivor to recover from the symptoms arising from the trauma. These approaches are not mutually exclusive, and one recently developed program, Cognitive-Behavioral Couples Therapy for PTSD (CBCT; Monson et al., 2005), includes techniques designed to both promote support for the traumatized individual and reduce relationship distress.
The present study will examine the impact of CBCT, compared to prolonged exposure (PE; Foa, Hembree and Rothbaum, 2007), on the relationship functioning and PTSD symptoms of military personnel returning from combat deployments.
The participants will be 76 married or cohabitating couples in which one partner is an Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom veteran with combat-related PTSD. Participants will be assigned to receive either 15 sessions of CBCT or 15 sessions of PE. This design provides a straightforward means for examining the effect of CBCT on couple functioning above and beyond a treatment that is effective in reducing PTSD symptoms.