For Veterans with PTSD, videoconferencing proves effective for delivering therapy - VA San Diego Healthcare System
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VA San Diego Healthcare System


For Veterans with PTSD, videoconferencing proves effective for delivering therapy

April 1, 2013

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Researchers at the VA San Diego Healthcare System who compared conventional in-person psychotherapy to therapy delivered through videoconferencing found that the video method worked just as well for treating posttraumatic stress disorder in Veterans.

The research team will report their results at the annual meeting of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, to be held April 4 – 7 in La Jolla, Calif.   The study included 207 Veterans. It was one of the largest yet in VA to test new ways of delivering evidence-based psychotherapy for those with PTSD. Telemedicine approaches such as videoconferencing are critical for Veterans who live in rural areas far from VA medical centers.

“These new ways of delivering therapy are also important for Veterans with PTSD who do not feel comfortable driving, or who may feel uncomfortable in hospitals or other crowded places,” added lead researcher Steven Thorp, PhD, a psychologist with VA and associate professor with the University of California, San Diego.

The men and women in the study all received 12 weekly sessions of cognitive processing therapy. The treatment, developed in large part by Boston-based VA researcher Patricia Resick, PhD, helps patients change their negative thoughts, feelings, and beliefs surrounding the trauma they experienced. The treatment has been shown effective in past research, and VA has been teaching it on a wide scale to its therapists in recent years.

Half the Veterans in the study received the therapy in person at the main San Diego VA site in La Jolla. The others received it via videoconferencing at the VA Mission Valley Clinic, about 10 miles away. In some VA telemedicine studies, Veterans receive psychotherapy hundreds of miles away from a main clinical site, or even in their homes. In this study, the remote site was closer, but the researchers were still able to evaluate the long-distance technology.

Veterans in both groups showed significant reductions in their PTSD symptoms at three months, after treatment ended. Improvements among the in-person group were somewhat stronger. At a six-month follow-up, both groups showed equal gains.

The researchers also found no differences between the in-person and video groups in terms of patients’ and providers’ satisfaction with the therapy. Likewise, there was no difference in “alliance,” or the therapeutic relationship between patients and counselors.

“Overall,” said Thorp, “the results add to other research suggesting that telemedicine—particularly videoconferencing—is a safe, effective approach for Veterans with PTSD.”