Group-based exposure therapy (GBET) is a therapeutic approach that involves confronting traumatic memories in a group setting. This type of treatment is designed to help clients work through fear and anxiety related to the trauma and process emotional responses in an adaptive way. In individualized therapy, clients often are encouraged to recall the details of their trauma. But in group settings, the question has arisen whether the explicit recollection of trauma-related details by one member would increase traumatic symptoms in others. Specifically, does one person’s account of his or her trauma serve as a trigger for another person’s traumatic memory, especially if the traumas are similar in nature? And if so, does this impair or enhance therapeutic progress?
To answer these questions, Juliette M. Mott of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Baylor College in Houston recently conducted a study that assessed the symptom trajectory and therapeutic outcomes of a group of veterans as they participated in 12 weeks of GBET for posttraumatic stress. The 20 veterans were assessed before, during and after treatment, and overall responded positively to the therapy. In fact, 85% of the participants saw significant symptom decreases post-treatment and did not have any increases in symptoms during treatment. Only six had a slight increase during treatment, but three of those saw reductions upon completion that negated any increases. The retention rate was high as well, with only one veteran dropping out before the end of treatment.
Mott noticed that even though the traumas recounted in sessions were similar, they did not serve as a trigger to exacerbate symptoms in other members. Actually, the exact opposite occurred. The veterans in this study said hearing feedback from the other vets in the group was the most beneficial aspect of therapy. Because they were allowed to record sessions and play them back in private, the responses and coping techniques they heard described by other veterans helped them transform the way in which they coped and adjusted to their own traumatic memories. Overall, the results of this study support GBET. “Our data suggest that group-exposure treatment may provide unique benefits that cannot occur when treatment is administered in an individual format,” Mott said.
Mott, J. M., Sutherland, R. J., Williams, W., Lanier, S. H., Ready, D. J., Teng, E. J. (2012). Patient perspectives on the effectiveness and tolerability of group-based exposure therapy for posttraumatic stress disorder: Preliminary self-report findings from 20 veterans. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029386
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