Veterans with PTSD often have substantial interpersonal problems and low perceived social support from family, partners, and peers. Interpersonal problems result in poor social reintegration, which in turn permeates all aspects of their functioning and is associated with greater suicidal ideation. The problems emerge rapidly, with one study showing a fourfold increase in rates of self-reported interpersonal conflict within six months of returning from deployment. Veterans with PTSD report considerable avoidance in relationships, marital stress, intimacy difficulties, and parenting problems. Low social support is a key factor related to poor physical health, emotional functioning, and increased mortality risk. Given the importance of social relationships in buffering against negative outcomes and suicidal ideation for persons with PTSD, there is a strong need for more research and treatment development to improve the social functioning of these Veterans. The proposed project will focus on evaluating an innovative treatment for improving the social relationships and social support among Veterans with PTSD. The goal of this project is to evaluate the efficacy of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to Improve Social Support for Veterans with PTSD (ACT-SS), a treatment focused on helping Veterans with PTSD to increase social support with family relationships, partners, and peers by targeting maladaptive patterns of interpersonal difficulties, feelings of detachment from others, irritability, and avoidance of social situations. ACT-SS provides Veterans with PTSD with more adaptive coping skills (i.e., acceptance and mindfulness, focus on values-based living) to improve social relationships, social support, and help manage PTSD-related distress. Our pilot data of ACT-SS indicates that ACT-SS results in improved social relationships and reduced PTSD symptoms, with preliminary data showing that ACT-SS results in significantly better improvement in social functioning outcomes compared to Present-Centered Therapy (PCT). The primary aim of this study is to conduct a two-site randomized controlled trial of ACT-SS (n=75) vs. PCT (n=75), a common treatment for social support difficulties. Study outcomes will include measures of social support, social relationships, quality of life, and PTSD symptoms. This proposal, supported by our promising pilot data, represents an important step in examining the potential efficacy of ACT-SS, including social functioning and quality of life in Veterans with PTSD. If positive, results from this study may provide a new treatment approach for improving the social reintegration of Veterans with PTSD.

Public Health Relevance

Veterans with PTSD often have impaired social relationships and poor social support. The negative outcomes associated with poor social support are of particular concern for Veterans with PTSD, who often perceive the world to be dangerous, view their social support network as a threat to their safety, and avoid members of their support network in order to increase their perceived safety. Poor social support is in turn associated with poor physical health, emotional functioning, clinical outcomes, increased mortality risk, and suicidal ideation and behavior. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to Improve Social Support for Veterans with PTSD (ACT-SS) is a promising treatment that focuses specifically on the interpersonal challenges of these Veterans and fills a substantial gap in the need for treatments designed to improve the social functioning of Veterans with PTSD. This study will evaluate the potential efficacy of ACT-SS, which if positive, will provide a critically-needed treatment for Veterans with PTSD to improve their social functioning and social reintegration in the community.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Veterans Affairs (VA)
Non-HHS Research Projects (I01)
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Behavioral Health & Social Reintegration (RRD4)
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Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital
United States
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