Effectiveness of Cognitive, Exposure, and Skills Group Manualized Treatments in Operations Iraqi (OIF)/Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) Female Veterans


The purpose of the study is to evaluate the efficacy of a group protocol for the delivery of evidence-based therapies in comparison to a wait-list control and evaluate the relative contribution of exposure, cognitive, and skills blocks of treatment in a 16-session manualized group treatment protocol in a sample of OIF/OEF female PTSD veterans. Hyp1: Overall improvement is expected in PTSD symptoms compared to a wait-list control group; and Hyp2: the exposure and cognitive components are expected to show greater improvement in PTSD symptoms than the skills component. Significant results will establish the efficacy of a group format for evidence-based treatments for all veterans with a PTSD diagnosis. An ancillary part of the study is to examine initial neuropsychological presentation in this population and possible changes that may occur as the result of treatment.

Full Title of Study: “Phase II Efficacy Study on Group Delivery of Effective Treatments for PTSD”

Study Type

  • Study Type: Interventional
  • Study Design
    • Allocation: Randomized
    • Intervention Model: Parallel Assignment
    • Primary Purpose: Treatment
    • Masking: Single (Outcomes Assessor)
  • Study Primary Completion Date: February 2013

Detailed Description

OBJECTIVES: The objectives are to 1) evaluate the effectiveness of exposure, cognitive, and skills (assertiveness/relaxation) therapies within a 16-session group; and 2) evaluate the relative contribution of each of three treatment components in a manualized treatment group in a sample of OIF/OEF female PTSD veterans. HYPOTHESES: Hypothesis 1. Female OIF/OEF PTSD veterans will show reductions in PTSD symptoms and improvement in general functioning after participation in a structured group treatment compared to a wait-list control group. Hypothesis 2. Exposure and cognitive components will show greater improvement in PTSD symptoms than the skills component. RESEARCH DESIGN/BACKGROUND: Based on studies with male combat veterans, female civilian rape victims, and female veterans, therapies most effective for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are exposure therapy (1,2,3) and cognitive restructuring (4), with less improvement found in other treatments, such as relaxation and assertiveness training (5). Most examinations of PTSD treatments have been conducted in an individual format, but most PTSD treatments offered in Veterans Administration (VA) hospital PTSD programs are conducted in a group format (6). It is critical to determine if these therapies work in a group setting, as only one study (7) found no differences in exposure therapy compared to a support group. In a comprehensive manualized group treatment protocol (8) exposure therapy provided in a group was found effective (9). The aim of the present study is to establish the effectiveness of exposure therapy, among other evidence-based therapies, in a well designed randomized study. METHODOLOGY: Castillo's (8) manualized group treatment protocol for female veterans with PTSD will be modified into a 16-week treatment group with a five-week exposure, five-week cognitive, and four-week skills treatment blocks. Seventy-two subjects will be assessed with structured interviews (SCID and CAPS) and questionnaires (Traumatic Life Events and Quality of Life Inventory) and randomized into one of two arms: 16-week immediate treatment, or a 16-week wait-list control, the latter of which will be reassessed and offered the study treatment. Oversampling will result in 72 subjects in the active treatment arm. Subjects will be reassessed upon completion of treatment or wait-list, at 3, and 6 months following treatment. All treatment groups will include three female OIF/OEF veterans positive for PTSD. The treatment blocks will be varied into six possible orders to control for order effects and the PTSD Symptom Checklist will be administered after each treatment block. Data will be collected for three years. CLINICAL RELATIONSHIPS: Significant results will contribute to the establishment of evidence-based treatments in a manualized treatment group for all veterans with a PTSD diagnosis. FINDINGS: Present findings from Dr. Castillo's lab suggest the effectiveness of exposure therapy in a group setting.


  • Behavioral: 16-Week Group Treatment
    • Within the 16-week group treatment, the cognitive block will contain 5 sessions, the exposure block will contain 5 sessions, and the skills block will contain 4 sessions.

Arms, Groups and Cohorts

  • Experimental: 16-Week Group Treatment
    • The 16-week treatment group will contain 3 blocks of treatment (exposure, cognitive, skills) with order randomized within the treatment. The first and last group session are considered inactive treatment sessions. The group treatment will be provided weekly.
  • No Intervention: Wait List Control
    • The Wait List Control group will receive minimal attention, as they will meet bi-monthly for supportive sessions with the study psychologist. The study psychologist will not introduce any active treatment in the individual sessions.

Clinical Trial Outcome Measures

Primary Measures

  • Change in PTSD from baseline on the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS) to post-treatment, 3 months, and 6 months later.
    • Time Frame: Baseline, post-treatment, 3 months follow up, 6 months follow up.
    • Interview administration of the CAPS by independent assessor captures current (past month) and lifetime symptoms and diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Secondary Measures

  • Change in mental and physical functioning from baseline on the Health Related Quality of Life (SF36) to post-treatment, 3 months, and 6 months later.
    • Time Frame: Baseline, post-treatment, 3-month follow up, 6-month follow up
    • Self-report questionnaire measures 8 life-functioning scales summarized by two content scales–Mental and Physical functioning.
  • Change in quality of life from baseline on the Quality of Life Inventory (QOLI) to post-treatment, 3 months, and 6 months later.
    • Time Frame: Baseline, post-treatment, 3-month follow up, 6-month follow up
    • QOLI is a self-report questionnaire measuring overall quality of life across 16 domains.
  • Change in PTSD from baseline to points during treatment with the PTSD Symptom Checklist (PCL).
    • Time Frame: Baseline, after each treatment block (every 5 weeks), post-treatment
    • The PCL is a self-report questionnaire measuring 17 PTSD symptoms.

Participating in This Clinical Trial

Inclusion Criteria

  • Diagnosis of PTSD – Iraq or Afghanistan female Veteran – Psychiatry stability (no suicide, homicide) – One clear memory of a trauma – Stability on psychiatric medications for 1 month Exclusion Criteria:

  • Active substance use/abuse (or in remission less than 3 mo) – Psychotic symptoms or diagnosis – Bipolar disorder diagnosis – Cognitive impairment – Involvement in a violent relationship – Self mutilation within past 6 months

Gender Eligibility: Female

Minimum Age: 19 Years

Maximum Age: 75 Years

Are Healthy Volunteers Accepted: Accepts Healthy Volunteers

Investigator Details

  • Lead Sponsor
    • New Mexico VA Healthcare System
  • Provider of Information About this Clinical Study
    • Principal Investigator: Diane T. Castillo, Ph.D., Supervisory Psychologist – New Mexico VA Healthcare System
  • Overall Official(s)
    • Diane T Castillo, Ph.D., Principal Investigator, New Mexico VA Healthcare System


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Schnurr PP, Friedman MJ, Engel CC, Foa EB, Shea MT, Chow BK, Resick PA, Thurston V, Orsillo SM, Haug R, Turner C, Bernardy N. Cognitive behavioral therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder in women: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2007 Feb 28;297(8):820-30.

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Cahill SP, Rothbaum BO, Resick P, & Follette VM. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for adults. In E. B. Foa, T. M. Keane, M. J. Friedman, & J. A. Cohen (Eds.), Effective treatments for PTSD: Practice Guidelines from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (pp. 139-222). New York: The Guildford Press, 2009.

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Schnurr PP, Friedman MJ, Foy DW, Shea MT, Hsieh FY, Lavori PW, Glynn SM, Wattenberg M, Bernardy NC. Randomized trial of trauma-focused group therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder: results from a department of veterans affairs cooperative study. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2003 May;60(5):481-9.

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