This study assessed associations between psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and longitudinal changes in PTSD, depression, and mental health functioning among U.S. veterans diagnosed as having PTSD.
Information about self-reported symptoms experienced from .5 to over three years was collected from 482 veterans diagnosed as having PTSD. Administrative data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) were used to calculate initiation of a course of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), days of medication coverage, and number of PTSD-related psychotherapy visits during the year after a baseline survey. Hierarchical linear modeling was used to analyze the effects of psychotherapy dose, initiation of an SSRI or SNRI, and medication coverage on symptoms over one year.
In the year after baseline, over half of the sample (55%) received no psychotherapy for PTSD, and only 8% met the VA’s proposed standard of eight PTSD-related sessions within 14 weeks. Nearly half of the participants (47%) were prescribed an SSRI or SNRI and 37% completed a 90-day trial in the year after baseline. Participants’ symptoms improved slightly over time. Participants who received eight or more psychotherapy sessions in 14 weeks, completed a 90-day course of SSRIs or SNRIs, or had more days of medication coverage did not improve more than participants who received less treatment.
These dose-of-care benchmarks were not related to symptom improvement, highlighting the importance of directly assessing the impact of particular treatments on patient outcomes rather than solely relying on process measures.