Defining PTSD Recovery: Does A Reduction In Symptoms Equal A Good Recovery?

Defining PTSD recovery: Does a reduction in symptoms equal a good recovery?

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating condition, often having a profound effect on the sufferer’s life for many years.


While international treatment guidelines recommend trauma-focussed psychological interventions for PTSD, these treatments only work for some people. And for members of the veteran and military community, as few as one-third of patients who receive a recommended treatment achieve good outcomes. Researchers agree that improved treatments are needed, but in addition, there is a critical need to expand how we view recovery so that it incorporates not only a reduction in symptoms, but also an increase in the patient’s own assessment of their wellbeing.


Researchers and clinicians currently use a variety of ways to define ‘response’ to PTSD treatment. Researchers at Phoenix Australia and the Centenary of Anzac Centre have conducted a study to extend existing research and enhance how outcomes from first-line PTSD treatments are measured.


The study investigated how 472 veterans responded to PTSD treatment. The team mapped the four progressive symptom response categories of the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist (PCL-5) – no response, response, loss of diagnosis, and remission – against five indicators of wellbeing – quality of life, social relationships, physical health, and psychological distress.


A reduction in PTSD symptoms was found to be associated with corresponding improvements in broader indicators of wellbeing. However, it was only when symptoms had reduced to the point of ‘loss of diagnosis’ that improvement on wellbeing measures indicated a good overall recovery.


The study team concluded that traditional methods of measuring ‘response’ in PTSD treatment are insufficient to indicate recovery on important wellbeing indicators.


Further research is needed in order to establish an expanded framework for measuring response to PTSD treatment that includes wellbeing.


“Clearly it is important for clinician and patient to see an improvement in symptoms following treatment for PTSD,” said Dr Mark Hinton, Director of the Anzac Centre’s Treatment Research Collaboration. “But for patients, it is equally important to see improvements in wellbeing. In this study, we found that treatment to the point of loss of PTSD diagnosis offered the greatest advantages to patients in both symptoms and general wellbeing, and therefore offers clinicians a clear treatment goal.”