Groups and Trauma

Group CBT treatments for PTSD leave 70% of participants still suffering from the condition and it appears less effective than individual PTSD. Further, other active group treatments appear as effective as group CBT for PTSD, but are slightly better able to retain people, probably because they are not trauma focussed, see link below to the Sloan et al (2018) study:

Stabilisation Groups

Groups/classes are a great attraction for Organisations pre-occupied with numbers and waiting lists, reflecting the prime concerns of Clinical Commissioning Groups. IAPT has a penchant for running groups/classes without an evidence base for effectiveness. For example, it offers trauma victims a Stabilisation Group, here is how two participants fared:

Mr X had two accidents within weeks of each other and attended a 6 week course. My independent assessment found the course had no effect on his mild PTSD and mild depression and he was then put on a waiting list for individual CBT. The group sessions began with 12-15 participants and went down to 4 people. Topics covered included calming down after nightmares, mindfulness and deep breathing. Nevertheless he described the course as ‘helpful’ but was given no diagnosis at any point either in the telephone assessment or on the course.

Mr Y attended a 6 week course with initially 8-10 people and 3-4 dropping out before the end he also found the course ‘helpful’, albeit that he felt that he was not back to his usual self after the course. My independent assessment revealed that he was still suffering from PTSD after the course and he received a letter stating ‘ have now success fully completed the Stabilisation Symptom Management Course … .. you have opted to complete therapy at this time  discharged you from the service’ but IAPT made no attempt at reliable diagnostic assessment before or after the course, patronisingly ‘success’ is now defined as completing an IAPT course!

Background to Stabilisation Groups

The impetus for the IAPT stabilisation groups probably derives from the Institute of Psychiatry 10 week programme teaching coping strategies for dealing with symptoms of PTSD, but in which trauma histories are not discussed . The programme uses cbt, mindfulness and relaxation techniques. But with no published study on effectiveness. IAPT has run a cut down version of this, just 6 sessions. Robertson et al at the Traumatic Stress Clinic offer 5-8 weeks of 2 hour group sessions for up to 10 people for refugees with a focus on managing hyper-arousal, anxiety, re-experiencing and dissociation but again there are no outcome studies. Like in IAPT it is intended as part of a phased treatment model but there is no evidence that it in any way adds to established treatments for PTSD.

Evidence Based Delivery of Group CBT

The Trauma Groups run in the UK bear no resemblance to those described in the Sloan et al (2018) study. The latter involved 14 2hr sessions and an adequate dose of treatment was regarded as attendance at 10 or more sessions. Though only a minority of study participants recovered from their PTSD there were high levels of satisfaction with both the trauma focused CBT intervention and with the non-trauma focused intervention. The trauma focused intervention involved writing about their trauma in 2 sessions and at home for homework. Further the trauma focussed group treatment was based on a group programme developed originally for victims of road traffic accidents. Interestingly both the trauma focused group CBT programme and the comparison Present Centred Therapy had bigger effects on coexisting generalised anxiety disorder and depression than on PTSD, the main target!

There are evidence based group protocols for depression and the anxiety disorders described in my book Simply Effective Group CBT (2011) London: Routledge.

The content for the group sessions I detailed in the book can be downloaded by clicking the link below:

I will be circulating this blog to the BABCP, Group CBT Special Interest Group, anyone interested in joining can contact Nicola at

Dr Mike Scott

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