for people ages 18-55 (full criteria)
at San Diego, California
study started
estimated completion
Principal Investigator
by Laura D. Crocker



This study focuses on helping Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) benefit fully from therapy by first enhancing their thinking abilities. PTSD has been associated with thinking problems, including difficulty planning/organizing, thinking flexibly, and inhibiting distracting emotional information. There is some evidence that computerized training programs are helpful for improving thinking. Therefore, this study tests whether computerized cognitive training will in fact improve individuals' thinking abilities and if this will in turn improve PTSD treatment outcomes and lead to more individuals completing treatment and showing greater improvements in emotional symptoms and quality of life than standard therapy (when paired with a word training condition).


PTSD affects approximately 14% of OEF/OIF Veterans and leads to considerable personal and societal costs (e.g., increased morbidity, reduced work productivity, poorer relationships). Although cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective treatments for PTSD, a substantial portion (approximately 50%) of individuals drop out prematurely, do not respond to treatment, or relapse. Treatment engagement is worse for OEF/OIF Veterans, who attend fewer sessions and have higher dropout rates than civilians and Veterans from other eras. One likely barrier to treatment engagement and effectiveness is the executive functioning problems present in individuals with PTSD. Executive functions (EFs) are the set of higher-level cognitive skills that organize and integrate lower-level cognitive processes in order to perform complex, goal-directed tasks. PTSD has been associated with EF deficits, including impairments in inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibly, as well as dysfunction in a network of brain regions that support EFs (e.g., prefrontal cortex [PFC], cingulate). EFs are essential for CBT in order to engage the cognitive skills involved in treatment (e.g., self-monitoring, inhibiting distorted thoughts, and flexibly generating/evaluating alternative thoughts). This is particularly true for Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), a frontline CBT treatment for PTSD, which involves identifying and challenging maladaptive trauma-related thoughts to alter their impact on emotions and behavior. Thus, EF deficits may lead to reduced CPT engagement and responsivity. In fact, worse EF at baseline has been associated with poorer response to CBT in several disorders (e.g., generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia). Further, a study of brain functioning during an EF task demonstrated that dysfunction in EF-related brain regions including PFC and cingulate cortex at baseline predicted nonresponse to CBT for PTSD. Directly targeting EF prior to CPT via cognitive training would strengthen executive networks and likely boost treatment effectiveness, allowing Veterans to fully engage in and benefit more from components of CPT (e.g., cognitive restructuring). Evidence suggests that computerized cognitive training improves EF and functioning in EF-related brain regions, increases mental health treatment completion rates, and goal of the proposed study is to examine whether administering computerized EF training (CEFT) immediately prior to CPT will improve executive functioning and enhance treatment adherence, completion rates, and psychological and functional outcomes in OEF/OIF Veterans with PTSD. Objective (neuropsychological) and subjective (self- report) measures of EF will be collected to determine if CEFT enhances EF and if this in turn mediates the relationship between treatment condition and PTSD symptom improvement. Functional neuroimaging during EF tasks will also be collected at baseline to determine whether functioning within an EF network predicts treatment response, above and beyond traditional paper-and-pencil measures of EF. Veterans will be randomized to either 12 weeks of CEFT-CPT or a placebo word training condition plus CPT. Assessments will be administered at baseline, immediately after CEFT or word training (prior to CPT), and after CPT completion. The proposed research aims to reduce barriers to treatment engagement and has potential to significantly enhance current treatments for PTSD by combining cognitive and psychotherapeutic approaches. Targeting EF directly and independently represents a logical, innovative, and empirically-informed method for augmenting existing treatments for PTSD in order to optimize outcomes. Findings from the proposed study will not only directly inform clinical practice, but also have the potential to significantly improve the quality of Veterans' lives, reduce societal costs and burden, improve access to care, and reveal ways to better match individuals with treatments they are most likely to benefit from.


Posttraumatic Stress Disorder PTSD treatment therapy cognition thinking executive function computer training Stress Disorders, Traumatic Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic Computerized executive function training plus CPT (CEFT-CPT) Word game training plus CPT (WT-CPT) CEFT-CPT WT-CPT


You can join if…

Open to people ages 18-55

  • Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) Veterans enrolled at Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System (VASDHS)
  • aged 18-55
  • current posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis
  • endorsement of cognitive complaints
  • no pending medication changes
  • English-speaking.

You CAN'T join if...

  • active substance use disorder in the last month
  • suicidal intent or attempt within the last month
  • schizophrenia, psychotic disorder and/or bipolar disorder
  • dementia
  • premorbid IQ < 70
  • participation in other concurrent PTSD intervention studies
  • previous completion of more than 4 Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) sessions
  • history of a documented neurological disorder (e.g., Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy)
  • moderate to severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) (i.e., loss of consciousness greater than 30 minutes or post-traumatic amnesia greater than 24 hours).


  • VA San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, CA accepting new patients
    San Diego California 92161 United States

Lead Scientist at UCSD


accepting new patients
Start Date
Completion Date
VA Office of Research and Development
Study Type
Expecting 110 study participants
Last Updated