The study, published in the journal Clinical Psychology Review, was based on a meta-analysis of 32 PTSD-related studies involving 72 treatment conditions that followed up with patients at least six months, and up to nearly two years, after treatment ended, according to researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
Patients displayed less-intense symptoms up to two years after treatment ended, compared to six months post-therapy, according to the study’s findings.
“It is possible that the longer time between post-treatment and follow-up assessments may provide a better opportunity for new skills to be practiced and reinforced, and for treatment gains to crystallize,” said Alex Kline, a co-author of the study and a Ph.D. student in adult clinical psychology in the university’s Department of Psychological Sciences.
Treatments found to be effective in both the short- and long-term include trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure therapy.
Both are relatively common in veterans’ facilities, yet are inconsistently available elsewhere, a major barrier to access and effective treatment, Kline said.
“It’s important to get a better understanding of who responds to what and why,” he said. “Showing that PTSD treatment gains are being maintained is meaningful for health-care providers choosing how to improve patient outcomes and drive down costs of ineffectual care.”
Cognitive-behavioral therapy reduces symptoms by changing patient behavior and addressing maladaptive thoughts.
Exposure therapy — considered the current standard for PTSD treatment — exposes patients to feared stimuli under deliberate, controlled, safe conditions.
While some PTSD patients do not respond to current treatments, most do, according to researchers.
“Eventually, our findings and others could optimize treatments,” Kline said. “The goal is to match patients with what’s best for them.”