The temporal dynamics of symptoms during exposure therapies of PTSD: a network approach

Analysis of dynamic (temporal) networks allows an identification of important targets of treatment.


Background: Analysis of dynamic (temporal) networks allows an identification of important targets of treatment.

Objective: This study examined the dynamic network of symptoms in patients diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during exposure therapy.

Method: Patients (n = 65) were randomized to either standard prolonged exposure, which includes imaginal exposure to the traumatic memory, or modified prolonged exposure, where imagery re-scripting of the memory replaced imaginal exposure, in a 10-week residential program. They completed a measure of DSM-IV PTSD symptoms weekly. The multilevel vector autoregressive (mlVAR) model was used to analyse the data, producing a temporal (dynamic), contemporaneous, and between-person network.

Results: Physiological reactivity to reminders in a given week was positively related to distress reactivity and to flashbacks the subsequent week. Hypervigilance one week was positively related to startle response and external avoidance the subsequent week. In addition, sleep problems were positively predicted by previous week internal avoidance and negatively predicted by previous week flashbacks. Hypervigilance and physiological reactivation had the highest out-strength, indicating that they were the most predictive of other symptoms.

Conclusions: The present within-person results make a preliminaryrect basis for the recommendation to monitor and facilitate change in physiological reactivation and hypervigilance in the treatment of PTSD. Future studies should examine the replicability of our temporal PTSD network and also include causal variables beyond symptoms.

European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 2019, 10 (1), DOI: 10.1080/20008198.2019.1618134


Published June 10, 2019 6:00 AM