Cognitive change predicts symptom improvement in cognitive therapy for PTSD
Kleim B., Grey N., Hackmann A., Nussbeck F., Wild J., Stott R., Clark DM., Ehlers A.
Objective: There is a growing body of evidence for the effectiveness of trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy (TF-CBT) for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but few studies to date have investigated the mechanisms by which TF-CBT leads to therapeutic change. Models of PTSD suggest that a core treatment mechanism is the change in dysfunctional appraisals of the trauma and its aftermath. If this is the case, then changes in appraisals should predict a change in symptoms. The present study investigated whether cognitive change precedes symptom change in Cognitive Therapy for PTSD, a version of TF-CBT. Method: The study analyzed weekly cognitive and symptom measures from 268 PTSD patients who received a course of Cognitive Therapy for PTSD, using bivariate latent growth modeling. Results: Results showed that (a) dysfunctional trauma-related appraisals and PTSD symptoms both decreased significantly over the course of treatment, (b) changes in appraisals and symptoms were correlated, and (c) weekly change in appraisals significantly predicted subsequent reduction in symptom scores (both corrected for the general decrease over the course of therapy). Changes in PTSD symptom severity did not predict subsequent changes in appraisals. Conclusions: The study provided preliminary evidence for the temporal precedence of a reduction in negative trauma-related appraisals in symptom reduction during trauma-focused CBT for PTSD. This supports the role of change in appraisals as an active therapeutic mechanism.