Deployed Soldiers’ Reactions to Exposure and Medication Treatments for PTSD

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Only a minority of service members with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) access care despite growing availability of evidence-based and innovative treatments. Although preferences for military personnel have not been established, previous research on civilian populations with PTSD suggest treatment preferences for exposure-based treatments over medications. There are also unique stressors in the deployed environment that may impact treatment preferences, such as close living proximity to peers and leaders, and limited access to typical coping strategies. Soldiers deployed to Iraq (n = 174) were provided a written hypothetical scenario about difficulties after combat exposure and were provided descriptions of Prolonged Exposure (PE), virtual reality exposure (VRE), and FDA-approved medications for PTSD. Soldiers completed a Treatment Reactions Scale for each treatment type. Responses were significantly more favorable for both PE and VRE relative to medications (p < .001). Relative to both exposure therapies, soldiers reacted to medications with significantly stronger agreement to scales reflecting embarrassment/shame for seeking a particular form of treatment, negative occupational/career impact, and perceived debasement for seeking the treatment. Relative to PE, soldiers were significantly less willing to recommend medication treatment and had significantly less confidence/belief in the efficacy of medications. These findings can help inform provider education of treatment options and demonstrate the importance of considering patient reactions to a treatment plan, as preferences may impact adherence.

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