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Couples Therapy Cuts PTSD Symptoms, Improves Relationships

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(TORONTO) -- According to statistics, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, are twice as likely to separate from a spouse or divorce.  But a new study suggests couples therapy can cut PTSD symptoms and keep families together.

"The best way to think of it is as a PTSD treatment that happens to be delivered to couples," said study author Candice Monson, professor of psychology at Ryerson University in Toronto.  "We tried to take what we know about trauma recovery -- that social support and interpersonal relationships are some of the most important factors for overcoming traumatic events -- and incorporate that into PTSD treatment."

The study of 40 couples plagued by PTSD found that those who participated in 15 therapy sessions reported relief from PTSD symptoms and improvements in relationship satisfaction -- even three months after the sessions stopped.  The findings, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggest spousal support can boost the response to PTSD treatment.

"We would never say to a cancer patient, 'You're going through this treatment alone,'" said Monson, describing the double standard for psychological illness.  "We would encourage loved ones to be there for the treatment, and understand its course and how they can help."

Dr. Carol Bernstein, associate professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York and past president of the American Psychiatric Association, called couples therapy for PTSD "a superb idea."

"The symptoms of psychiatric illness have a tremendous impact on those who love the person suffering.  And to the extent that partners can be engaged in the treatment and educated about the condition and how they can help, the better the outcome for everyone," she said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio