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Advances in Couple Therapy for Returning Soldiers and their Spouses


Service members returning from Afghanistan and Iraq face psychological challenges that can have negative effects on them and their families, which can be exacerbated by prolonged or repeated deployments. Requests for treatment to address relationship distress are among the most common in mental health agencies providing care for military service members. Family and couple therapies may help by increasing social support, decreasing interpersonal conflict, and targeting any avoidance behaviors that impact a returning soldier’s mental health symptoms, e.g., those related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The authors of this article present a case study about a service member who suffers from PTSD and his wife, who are treated with an adaptation of integrative behavioral couple therapy (IBCT) that reduces conflict and encourages intimacy through acceptance and skills strategies. Using this method, IBCT exposes service members in couple therapy to emotions, interpersonal situations, and activities that facilitate recovery from combat-related distress. At the end of the 13 weeks of treatment, this couple reported that their relationship was considerably stronger. However, the authors emphasize the need for controlled research to assess the efficacy of this and other couple-based treatments for returning soldiers and their families.

PubMed Logo Erbes C, Polusny M, MacDermid S and Compton J. Couple therapy with combat veterans and their partners. Journal of Clinical Psychology August 2008;64(8):972-83.

Dr. Polusny is part of HSR&D’s Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research in Minneapolis, and Dr. Erbes is part of the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis.

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What are HSR&D Publication Briefs?

HSR&D requires notification by HSR&D-funded investigators about all articles accepted for publication. These journal articles are reviewed by HSR&D and publication briefs or summaries are written for a select number of articles that are then forwarded to VHA Central Office leadership to keep them informed about important findings or information. Articles to be summarized are selected by HSR&D based on timeliness of the findings, interest of leadership, or potential impact on the organization. Publication briefs are written for only a small number of HSR&D published articles. Visit the HSR&D citations database for a complete listing of HSR&D articles and presentations.