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OBJECTIVE: Although most studies investigating sudden gains in treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) report a positive association between sudden gains and outcomes at the end of treatment, less is known about sudden gains in routine clinical care and the processes involved in their occurrence. This study investigated changes in cognitive factors (negative appraisals, trauma memory characteristics) before, during, and after sudden gains in PTSD symptom severity. METHOD: Two samples (N₁ = 248, N₂ = 234) of patients who received trauma-focused cognitive therapy for PTSD in routine clinical care were analyzed. Mahalanobis distance matching, including the propensity score, was used to compare patients with sudden gains and similar patients without sudden gains. Estimates from both samples were meta-analyzed to obtain pooled effects. RESULTS: Patients with sudden gains (n₁ = 76, n₂ = 87) reported better treatment outcomes in PTSD symptom severity, depression, and anxiety at the end of therapy and follow-up than those without sudden gains. No baseline predictors of sudden gains could be reliably identified. During sudden gains, those with sudden gains had greater changes in both cognitive factors than matched patients. Meta-analyses of the two samples showed that negative appraisals had already decreased in the session prior to sudden gains compared with matched patients. CONCLUSIONS: The pooled estimates suggest that changes in negative trauma-related appraisals precede sudden gains in PTSD symptoms. The results suggest that interventions that promote change in appraisals may also facilitate sudden gains in therapy. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

Original publication




Journal article


J Consult Clin Psychol

Publication Date





455 - 469