Cortisol Augmentation of Psychological Treatment in Warfighters with PTSD

ID Number 09-1817

Contact Information
Jaklyn Van Manen
Tel: 718-741-4000, x6986
E-mail: jaklyn.vanmanen@va.gov

Veterans with PTSD from combat or other service-related traumatic experiences are eligible to participate in this treatment study, which offers 10 sessions of prolonged exposure (PE) therapy.

The purpose of this study is to see whether the gains experienced with Prolonged Exposure can be improved by adding cortisol, in the form of a steroid hormone supplement that will take just before each therapy appointment. Think of it as “Psychotherapy on Steroids”.

Cortisol is a stress hormone that is typically produced in higher levels in response to stressful experiences; however, levels of this hormone tend to be lower in people with PTSD. Cortisol is also known to help improve attention and learning. We believe that taking a moderate dose by mouth of hydrocortisone (a man-made form of cortisol) will enhance the learning of coping strategies and other skills during PE therapy.

Eligible participants will go through the following steps:

  • A comprehensive evaluation to identify the source of your PTSD symptoms
  • Collection of blood and urine samples so that we can measure before-treatment levels of these biological variables
  • Ten weekly sessions of Prolonged Exposure therapy with a trained psychologist, in which:
    • You will also be randomly chosen (flipping a coin) to take either a low dose of cortisol or a placebo just before a therapy session
    • Neither you nor your therapist will know whether you are taking the cortisol; the placebo is necessary for us to learn whether it is cortisol or the therapy alone that leads to improvements in symptoms
  • After treatment, you will repeat all of the biological and psychological assessments

You will be compensated for your time and travel up to $315, and you will not be charged for the prolonged exposure treatment. Your participation in this study will help us identify whether this simple method is effective enough in improving treatment results to be widely applied to people suffering from PTSD.

Please call Jaklyn Van Manen at 718-741-4000 x6986 if you are interested in participating or have any questions.