Hearing Other Veterans’ Traumatic Experiences Helps Reduce PTSD

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

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Seth


    November 1st, 2012 at 3:16 PM

    Isn’t it funny how you would think that hearing others’ traumatic experiences would make you feel even sadder and more enmeshed in your own, but in that crazy funny way, hearing from others is sometimes even more comfroting than talking with someone one on one who has never felt like this.
    It is almost as if you find this commiseration with someone who has this common bond, who knows what your life feels like, and you can gain and learn from their own setbacks and experiences.
    I wouldn’t wnat anyone to think that this is all about misery loving company because it’s not like that. But it is this kinship that you have with another veteran brother or sister that lets you see and allows it to click that you are not alone, that there are others who feel exactly like you do, and with whom you can establish this bond of knowing and experince that you may not lbe able to experience with someone who has not lived through it.

  • Townshend


    November 2nd, 2012 at 4:01 AM

    If you can get vets to attend these sessions, then it looks pretty promising that this could be beneficial to them.

  • Lori Snyder

    Lori Snyder

    November 2nd, 2012 at 12:54 PM

    I had the same sort of result from reading the book Faces Of Combat. It is full of the stories of other veterans. Just reading them helped me to know that I wasn’t alone.

    The book also has tips to help control your PTSD and provides lists of resources where you can get help. The book won’t replace good therapy but if you still refuse to talk to someone, it’s a great place to start. It’s even great for family members as it helps them to understand some of what is going on inside their veteran.

  • Wright


    November 2nd, 2012 at 8:44 PM

    Funny how it helps to hear others trauma…Maybe the thing at play here is the feeling that ones with not being the only one going through such a thing a new solutions to the same problem.

  • Gibbs


    November 4th, 2012 at 6:19 AM

    It is sometimes very comforting to know that you are not the only one, that there are others who know what you are going through. And the great thing about being with them is that many times if you listen real close then you might even have some ways that could improve your own life.

  • momof5


    November 5th, 2012 at 9:50 AM

    I wonder if this theory would have a carry over to other areas of disfunction. For example, with adolescents, parents often worry that if they share their teenage missteps, it will influence their children to make similar mistakes. “If mom and/or dad did it and they are fine now, why shouldn’t I try it?” With a teenager in the house, it is a burning question!

  • Bob Eaton

    Bob Eaton

    November 5th, 2012 at 10:50 AM

    Group based exposure therapy should be very controlled and small. It can not only be dangerous to the veteran but also to loved ones. Once a vet starts it, that vet needs weekly if not twice weekly followups in addition to the group, including meds.
    GBET is not a time for war stories and then be expected to go home and be by yourself.
    No one fresh into the VA mental health therapy world should be just dropped into a GBET group without a lot (months) of prior one on ones and other regular discussion groups first.
    It’s not a fast track cure-all which seems to be what everybody expects anymore (time is money).
    Until the Docs can come up with an end based solution to this kind of therapy they need to be careful where they tread. Those who are in it need to know or be guided when to take a break from it, those facilitating need to know how to recognize when that need occurs.
    A traumatized vet with PTSD cannot keep this kind of therapy up indefinitely it will eat what’s left of their soul.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.