Written Exposure Therapy for Veterans With SUD and PTSD (WET)

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VA Office of Research and Development




Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Substance Use Disorders


Behavioral: Written Exposure Therapy
Behavioral: Neutral Topic Writing

Study type


Funder types

Other U.S. Federal agency



Details and patient eligibility


The proposed project will evaluate the efficacy of written exposure therapy (WET) among Veterans engaged in substance use disorder (SUD) treatment, who present with co-occurring posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While SUD treatment programs traditionally do not address PTSD, effective trauma treatments have been used successfully among those with substance use comorbidities. WET is a brief trauma-focused intervention shown to effectively treat PTSD. In a recent acceptability and feasibility pilot study among Veterans with co-occurring SUD and PTSD, results showed a decrease in PTSD symptoms among participants receiving WET. The goal of the present study is to improve outcomes for Veterans who present for SUD treatment with comorbid SUD/PTSD.

Full description

This study is a randomized clinical trial within a Substance Use Disorder (SUD) specialty clinic to evaluate whether treatment as usual (TAU) plus Written Exposure Therapy (WET) is superior to TAU augmented by a neutral topic writing condition on both PTSD and addiction outcomes for Veterans in SUD treatment. Veterans with a current diagnosis of SUD and comorbid PTSD will be randomized to either WET plus TAU or TAU augmented by a neutral topic writing condition. During the first writing session, participants will be asked to write about either a personal traumatic experience (WET) or a neutral topic (control). In sessions 2 through 5, participants will again meet with the study therapist for 45 minutes (maintaining the same writing condition as assigned in session one). Measures of trauma symptoms, distress, and mood will be collected at each writing session, with additional assessments at baseline, at post-treatment (following 5 writing sessions), 8-weeks, and 12-weeks post-baseline assessment. The primary aim of this study is to examine whether WET augmentation of TAU improves trauma symptoms for Veterans with SUD and PTSD who are receiving outpatient SUD treatment compared to TAU with a neutral writing control. The secondary aim will examine whether WET improves SUD outcomes for Veterans with comorbid PTSD compared to TAU with a neutral writing control. If results prove promising, they will support WET as an effective brief, cost efficient, easy to disseminate, adjunct to current SUD treatment for Veterans with comorbid PTSD.


170 estimated patients




18+ years old


No Healthy Volunteers

Inclusion criteria

  • Veterans ages 18 years old or older;
  • Meets DSM-5 criteria for at least one substance use disorder (SUD);
  • Meets DSM-5 criteria for PTSD;
  • Approved for SUD treatment at VA Connecticut Healthcare System.

Exclusion criteria

  • Veterans who meet current criteria for schizophrenia, schizophrenia-type disorders, or unmedicated mania or bipolar disorder as determined by QuickSCID-5;
  • current suicidal or homicidal risks necessitating a higher level of care;
  • Veterans who have received an Evidence-Based Psychotherapy for PTSD protocol within the past 6 months;
  • Problems that would prevent a participant from completing the writing intervention or study assessments (e.g., illiteracy). To assess for literacy, participants will read parts of the consent out loud.

Trial design

Primary purpose




Interventional model

Parallel Assignment


Single Blind

170 participants in 2 patient groups

Written Exposure Therapy
Experimental group
Written Exposure Therapy (WET) plus Treatment As Usual (TAU). WET is a 5 session, evidence-based trauma-focused written narrative exposure treatment. At each session, patients are instructed to write about the same trauma event and therapists provide feedback about adherence and offer suggestions. The first session includes psychoeducation about PTSD and a treatment rationale prior to general trauma narrative writing instructions, and specific instructions for completing the first writing session, before completing the first writing (30 minutes) session. Participants are instructed to write about the same trauma event at each following session, with an emphasis on delving into their deepest emotions and thoughts, in as much detail as possible, about the event. All writing sessions begin with specific instructions from the therapist followed by 30 minutes of writing by the participant.
Behavioral: Written Exposure Therapy
Neutral Topic Writing
Active Comparator group
Treatment As Usual (TAU) augmented by a neutral topic writing condition. The neutral topic writing condition involves writing about an assigned topic during each of the five writing sessions. As opposed to writing about trauma, the specific focus of this condition is on writing for 30 minutes about topics related to their life without writing about emotions or opinions. Rather, they are asked to write about specific objects or events in detail, as accurately as possible, and with as much description as possible. All writing sessions begin with specific instructions from the therapist followed by 30 minutes of writing by the participant.
Behavioral: Neutral Topic Writing

Trial contacts and locations



Central trial contact

Jenelle Newcomb, BA; Michael Merritt

Data sourced from clinicaltrials.gov

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