The incorporation of emotion-regulation skills into couple- and family-based treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder

Deborah A. Perlick, Frederic J. Sautter, Julia J. Becker-Cretu, Danielle Schultz, Savannah C. Grier, Alexander V. Libin, Manon Maitland Schladen, Shirley M. Glynn

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disabling, potentially chronic disorder that is characterized by re-experience and hyperarousal symptoms as well as the avoidance of trauma-related stimuli. The distress experienced by many veterans of the Vietnam War and their partners prompted a strong interest in developing conjoint interventions that could both alleviate the core symptoms of PTSD and strengthen family bonds. We review the evolution of and evidence base for conjoint PTSD treatments from the Vietnam era through the post-911 era. Our review is particularly focused on the use of treatment strategies that are designed to address the emotions that are generated by the core symptoms of the disorder to reduce their adverse impact on veterans, their partners and the relationship. We present a rationale and evidence to support the direct incorporation of emotion-regulation skills training into conjoint interventions for PTSD. We begin by reviewing emerging evidence suggesting that high levels of emotion dysregulation are characteristic of and predict the severity of both PTSD symptoms and the level of interpersonal/marital difficulties reported by veterans with PTSD and their family members. In doing so, we present a compelling rationale for the inclusion of formal skills training in emotional regulation in couple-/family-based PTSD treatments. We further argue that increased exposure to trauma-related memories and emotions in treatments based on learning theory requires veterans and their partners to learn to manage the uncomfortable emotions that they previously avoided. Conjoint treatments that were developed in the last 30â years all acknowledge the importance of emotions in PTSD but vary widely in their relative emphasis on helping participants to acquire strategies to modulate them compared to other therapeutic tasks such as learning about the disorder or disclosing the trauma to a loved one. We conclude our review by describing two recent innovative treatments for PTSD that incorporate a special emphasis on emotion-regulation skills training in the dyadic context: structured approach therapy (SAT) and multi-family group for military couples (MFG-MC). Although the incorporation of emotion-regulation skills into conjoint PTSD therapies appears promising, replication and comparison to cognitive-behavioral approaches is needed to refine our understanding of which symptoms and veterans might be more responsive to one approach versus others.

Original languageEnglish
Article number21
JournalMilitary Medical Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 30 Jun 2017


  • Couples
  • Emotional regulation
  • Family
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder


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