Evidence-based Treatments for PTSD: Prolonged Exposure and Behavioral Activation

Evidence-based Treatments for PTSD: Prolonged Exposure and Behavioral Activation

Many people witness or experience some kind of traumatic event during their lifetime; however, these events affect people in different ways. It is common for people who have witnessed or experienced a traumatic event to have some difficulty adjusting and coping, but symptoms such as flashbacks and anxiety typically improve with time (Mayo Clinic). However, for some people, symptoms get worse or persist for several months or years and interfere with daily functioning, which is usually an indication of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD; Mayo Clinic). A common form of treatment for PTSD is exposure-based therapy which involves intentionally imagining the traumatic experience and interacting with people, places, or things that are associated with or related to the traumatic event (Gros et al., 2012). However, some individuals with PTSD also have symptoms of depression which sometimes persist after treatment for PTSD (Gros et al., 2012). Due to this concern, Gros and colleagues (2012) sought to evaluate the effects of a treatment package for individuals with PTSD and depression which included evidence-based therapies for each of these conditions.

Eighty-two combat veterans completed participation in the current study which incorporated exposure therapy and behavioral activation (BA)—an evidence-based treatment for depression involving planning activities that are aligned with personal values. Each treatment session was 90 minutes, and participants completed eight treatment sessions. Treatment consisted of encouraging participants to plan activities consistent with personal values—some of which involved exposure to feared situations such as shopping in a crowded mall—and writing or speaking about the traumatic event (i.e., imaginal exposure). In this way, participants used behavioral activation combined with exposure therapy. Throughout the study, participants completed a variety of questionnaires designed to assess the severity of symptoms of PTSD and depression. Overall, researchers observed improvements in PTSD and overlapping symptoms of PTSD and depression; however, similar effects were not observed for nonoverlapping symptoms of depression. The authors concluded that more research is needed to determine the effects of specific treatment components on specific symptoms of PTSD and depression, and which additional treatment components may enhance treatment effects.

Scrupulosity: When religion and morality become impairing

Scrupulosity: When religion and morality become impairing

Although most people are familiar with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)—or at least have a general idea and may even feel that they personally have some OCD tendencies—a lesser known form of OCD exists called scrupulosity. Scrupulosity involves obsessions related to religious or moral ideals which cause an individual to be overly concerned that their actions are sinful or are violating religious or moral doctrine (International OCD Foundation, 2010). This concern is so great that it often leads to excessive praying or trips to confession, repeating rituals involving cleansing and purifying, and avoiding situations where some religious or moral error may occur (IOCDF, 2010). One effective and recommended treatment for scrupulosity is Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP); however, another form of treatment, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) was shown to be another effective form of treatment in a recent study by Dehlin, Morrison, and Twohig (2013). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy traditionally involves accepting undesirable thoughts and feelings, reducing the meaning of and attachment to these thoughts and feelings, and working toward acting in a way that fulfills one’s values in life and has been used in the treatment of OCD.

Dehlin and colleagues (2013) evaluated the effects of ACT on scrupulosity with five adults (three females and two males) across eight treatment sessions. In order to measure the effects of treatment, researchers tracked the participants’ compulsive behaviors as well as engagement with valued activities. In addition, researchers had participants complete assessment questionnaires. Treatment sessions were 1-1.5 hours each week and consisted of activities that helped the participants incorporate the core processes of ACT. Participants also completed weekly homework assignments. Throughout treatment, participants learned to accept unwanted thoughts, separate themselves from obsessive thoughts, view the self as a context in which thoughts occur, contact the present moment, and commit to actions in alignment with values. Results of the study showed a 74% reduction in compulsions and a 79% reduction in avoided valued behaviors, and these reductions were maintained during a 3-month follow up. In addition, participants reported high levels of treatment acceptability which, combined with the positive results of treatment, makes this a promising treatment for individuals with scrupulosity.

Dehlin, J. P., Morrison, K. L., & Twohig, M. P. (2013). Acceptance and commitment therapy as a treatment for scrupulosity in obsessive compulsive disorder. Behavior Modification. DOI: 10.1177/0145445512475134

International Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Foundation (2010). Retrieved from https://iocdf.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/IOCDF-Scrupulosity-Fact-Sheet.pdf