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Mindful Self Compassion for Combat Deployed Veterans With Moral Injury and Co-occurring PTSD-SUD

The safety and scientific validity of this study is the responsibility of the study sponsor and investigators. Listing a study does not mean it has been evaluated by the U.S. Federal Government. Read our disclaimer for details.
ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT03681288
Recruitment Status : Completed
First Posted : September 24, 2018
Last Update Posted : April 27, 2021
Providence VA Medical Center
Information provided by (Responsible Party):
VA Office of Research and Development

Brief Summary:
Veterans with co-occurring Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Substance Use Disorder (PTSD-SUD) experience more severe symptomatology and poorer response to existing treatments than Veterans with either disorder alone. Guilt is a common posttraumatic reaction and has been implicated as a risk factor for the development and maintenance of PTSD and substance use. Combat Veterans often report experiencing moral injury defined as perpetrating, failing to prevent, or witnessing acts that violate the values they live by in their civilian lives, which can lead to feelings of guilt and shame. Accordingly, reduction in guilt and increase in self-compassion may lead to improved quality of life for Veterans. This project will conduct a pilot study to evaluate changes in self-compassion, guilt, and PTSD-SUD symptom severity in a sample of Veterans after receiving 8 sessions of Mindful Self Compassion treatment (via a telehealth modality during COVID-19 pandemic). Findings will have significant impact on effective treatment options and lead to improvements in Veterans' quality of life and posttraumatic symptoms.

Condition or disease Intervention/treatment Phase
Substance Use Disorder Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Moral Injury Behavioral: Mindful Self-Compassion Not Applicable

Detailed Description:

PTSD-SUD is particularly common following combat exposure, affecting a rapidly increasing number of U.S. military Veterans. The co-occurrence of these disorders presents added challenges to the VA treatment delivery system, presently in need of effective integrated treatments. Veterans with PTSD-SUD experience more severe symptomatology, increased risk of suicidality, poorer quality of life, and poorer response to existing treatments than Veterans with either disorder alone. Furthermore, PTSD-SUD prevents Veterans from reintegrating into society and is associated with occupational and social dysfunction. These findings underscore the need to effectively and efficiently address comorbidity and the complex array of problems with which Veterans present to treatment.

One approach is to develop interventions that target mechanisms thought to underlie multiple highly prevalent disorders, such as guilt related to traumatic experiences. Combat Veterans often report experiencing moral injury defined as perpetrating, failing to prevent, or witnessing acts that violate the values they live by in their civilian lives. Veterans who negatively appraise their actions or inaction during combat may experience guilt, a common posttraumatic reaction. Moral injury suggests the inability to contextualize or justify actions and the unsuccessful accommodation of those morally challenging experiences into pre-existing moral schemas, resulting in guilt and shame. Posttraumatic guilt has been implicated as a risk factor for the development and maintenance of several forms of psychopathology including PTSD, SUD, depression, and suicidality. However, to date, treatments for posttraumatic psychological health issues have been primarily disorder specific, with a focus largely on symptom reduction. Therefore, greater understanding of modifiable factors that influence functional impairment and PTSD-SUD is needed to enhance treatment efforts.

Mindful Self Compassion (MSC) combines the skills of mindfulness and self-compassion, providing self-soothing skills to respond to difficult thoughts and feelings (including guilt) via meditation. Self-compassion (SC) emphasizes kindness towards one's self, a feeling of connectedness with others, and mindful awareness of distressing experiences. Furthermore, because SC is negatively associated with self-criticism, rumination, thought suppression, anxiety, and depression, and positively associated with healthy psychological functioning, it is well suited to addressing posttraumatic psychopathology, shame, and guilt.

This proposal will begin to address a gap in the field's knowledge about MSC, and its role in the treatment of co-occurring disorders in Veterans with moral injury. The investigators will evaluate changes in self-compassion, post-traumatic guilt, shame, PTSD and substance use symptom severity. In addition to symptom reduction, the investigators will focus on functional outcomes (e.g., quality of life, suicidality). Participants will complete assessments at baseline, post-treatment, and 1-month follow-up. This project will allow us to 1) determine the feasibility of recruitment, 2) determine the acceptability of MSC, 3) provide preliminary evidence of the effects of MSC, and 4) refine study procedures and make adaptations to MSC based upon experience gained in the pilot in preparation for a fully powered RCT to test the effectiveness of MSC.

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Study Type : Interventional  (Clinical Trial)
Actual Enrollment : 34 participants
Allocation: N/A
Intervention Model: Single Group Assignment
Masking: None (Open Label)
Primary Purpose: Treatment
Official Title: Mindful Self Compassion for Combat Deployed Veterans With Moral Injury and Co-occurring PTSD-SUD
Actual Study Start Date : May 21, 2019
Actual Primary Completion Date : February 26, 2021
Actual Study Completion Date : March 31, 2021

Arm Intervention/treatment
Experimental: MSC
Mindful Self-Compassion Intervention
Behavioral: Mindful Self-Compassion
Mindful Self-Compassion Intervention

Primary Outcome Measures :
  1. Self-Compassion Scale (SCS); Change from baseline in Self-Compassion at post-treatment (2 mo) and follow up (3mo) [ Time Frame: Baseline, 8-10 weeks, 12-14 weeks ]
    The SCS is a 26-item self-report questionnaire in which respondents describe how they relate to themselves during times of distress. The SCS includes the 5 item Self-Kindness subscale (ranging from 5-25; higher scores reflect more self-kindness), the 5-item Self-Judgment subscale (ranging from 5-25; higher scores reflect more self-judgment), the 4-item Common Humanity subscale (ranging from 4-20; higher scores reflect higher levels of common humanity), the 4-item Isolation subscale (ranging from 4-20; higher scores indicate higher levels of isolation), the 4-item Mindfulness subscale (ranging from 4-20; higher scores reflect higher levels of mindfulness) and the 4-item Over-Identification subscale (ranging from 4-20). Responses are given on a 5-point scale from "1-Almost Never" to "5-Almost Always." Mean scores on the six subscales are then averaged to create an overall self-compassion score ranging from 26 to 130. Higher scores correspond to higher levels of self-compassion.

  2. Trauma-Related Guilt Inventory (TRGI); Change from baseline in trauma-related guilt at post-treatment (2 mo) and follow up (3mo) [ Time Frame: Baseline, 8-10 weeks, 12-14 weeks ]
    The TRGI is a 32-item validated self-report measure assessing traumatic guilt. The TRGI has three scales - Guilt Severity, Distress, and Guilt Cognitions. In all 32 items the answers are recorded on 5-point scale (ranging from 0 - not at all true to 4 - extremely true). Eight items are reverse-scored. We will use the TRGI as one of our eligibility criteria and to monitor changes in guilt and related cognitions over time.

  3. Internalized Shame Scale (ISS); Change from baseline in shame at post-treatment (2 mo) and follow up (3mo) [ Time Frame: Baseline, 8-10 weeks, 12-14 weeks ]
    The ISS is a 30-item self-report measure assessing shame proneness scored on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 0 = "never" to 4 = "almost always". The ISS yields sum scores for two subscales, self-esteem (6 items; range = 0-24 with higher scores reflecting higher levels of self-esteem) and internalized shame (24 items; range = 0-96 with higher scores reflecting higher levels of shame) and has been well-validated with research and clinical populations. The self-esteem items are interspersed to counteract a negative response set.

Secondary Outcome Measures :
  1. Clinician Administered PTSD Scale for DSM-5; Change from baseline in PTSD symptoms at post-treatment (2 mo) and follow up (3mo) [ Time Frame: Baseline, 8-10 weeks, 12-14 weeks ]
    The CAPS is a semi-structured interview used to assess PTSD diagnostic criteria and severity. Respondents select up to three of the most traumatic events they have experienced, and those events are used as the basis for assessing PTSD symptoms. The CAPS assesses each of the 20 items from the DSM-5 criteria B, C, D, and E. The assessor combines information about frequency and intensity of an item into a single severity rating (0=Absent; 1=Mild/subthreshold; 2=Moderate/threshold; 3=Severe/markedly elevated; 4=Extreme/incapacitating). CAPS-5 total symptom severity score is calculated by summing severity scores for the 20 DSM-5 PTSD symptoms (range = 0-40). Similarly, CAPS-5 symptom cluster severity scores are calculated by summing the individual item severity scores for symptoms corresponding to a given DSM-5 cluster: Criterion B (items 1-5); Criterion C (items 6-7); Criterion D (items 8-14); and, Criterion E (items 15-20).

  2. Quality Of Life Enjoyment & Satisfaction Questionnaire (WHO-QOL-BREF); Change from baseline in quality of life at post-treatment (2 mo) and follow up (3mo) [ Time Frame: Baseline, 8-10 weeks, 12-14 weeks ]

    The WHO-QOL BREF is a 26-item validated self-report measure that that assesses quality of life across four domains: physical (7 items, range 1-5), psychological (6 items, range 1-5), social relationships (3 items, range 1-5), and environment (8 items, range 1-5). The four domain scores denote an individual's perception of quality of life in each particular domain. The mean score of items within each domain is used to calculate the domain score. Domain scores are scaled in a positive direction (i.e. higher scores denote higher quality of life).

    There are also two items that are examined separately: question 1 asks about an individual's overall perception of quality of life on a scale of 1 - "very poor" to 5 - "very good". Question 2 asks about an individual's overall perception of their health on a scale of 1 - "very dissatisfied" to 5 - "very satisfied". The WHO-QOL-BREF has excellent internal validity and test-retest reliability.

  3. Timeline Follow-back; Change from baseline in frequency of substance use at post-treatment (2 mo) and follow up (3mo) [ Time Frame: Baseline, 8-10 weeks, 12-14 weeks ]
    The Alcohol TLFB is a drinking assessment method that obtains estimates of daily drinking. The TLFB will be employed at all three assessment points to evaluate alcohol and other substance use during the 90 days preceding each interview. Using a calendar, people provide retrospective estimates of their daily drinking over a specified time period. The TLFB will be used at each follow-up to establish: percentage days heavy drinking, percent days abstinent, length of initial abstinence, length of use episodes, severity of relapse and current alcohol/drug use pattern. The Alcohol TLFB has been shown to have good psychometric characteristics with a variety of groups, and can generate variables that provide a wide range of information about an individual's use (e.g., pattern, variability, and magnitude of use).

Other Outcome Measures:
  1. Beck Scale for Suicidal Ideation; Change from baseline in suicidal risk at post-treatment (2 mo) and follow up (3mo) [ Time Frame: Baseline, 8-10 weeks, 12-14 weeks ]
    Beck Scale for Suicidal Ideation (BSSI): This scale is a 19-items instrument that evaluates the presence and intensity of suicidal thoughts in a week before evaluation (19). Each item is scored based on an ordinal scale from 0 to 2 and the total score is 0 to 38 with higher score indicating more risk for suicide.

Information from the National Library of Medicine

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Ages Eligible for Study:   18 Years and older   (Adult, Older Adult)
Sexes Eligible for Study:   All
Accepts Healthy Volunteers:   No

Inclusion Criteria:

  • moral injury as captured by at least one "strongly agree" response on the Moral Injury Events Scale
  • diagnosis of PTSD (within the last 30 days) confirmed by the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS) with a total symptom score of 22 or more
  • diagnosis of a substance use disorder confirmed by the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-5 Section E (SCID-E) within the last year
  • willing and able to provide informed consent
  • not currently receiving trauma-focused treatment

Exclusion Criteria:

  • individuals with an acute psychotic disorder or acute psychotic symptoms are not eligible if their symptoms are unstable and if they are not well connected with appropriate mental health services
  • patients with a psychiatric hospitalization or suicide attempt within the past month will be excluded
  • currently receiving trauma-focused treatment, e.g., (PE, CPT, CBT for PTSD)

    • Patients currently enrolled in trauma-focused treatment may be enrolled when they have completed the treatment if they remain interested and continue to have PTSD
  • individuals with life-threatening or unstable medical illness. Diagnoses of mild cognitive impairment (e.g. mTBI) and other anxiety and depressive disorders will not be excluded because of their high comorbidity with PTSD and SUD

Information from the National Library of Medicine

To learn more about this study, you or your doctor may contact the study research staff using the contact information provided by the sponsor.

Please refer to this study by its ClinicalTrials.gov identifier (NCT number): NCT03681288

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United States, Rhode Island
Providence VA Medical Center, Providence, RI
Providence, Rhode Island, United States, 02908
Sponsors and Collaborators
VA Office of Research and Development
Providence VA Medical Center
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Principal Investigator: Erica M. Eaton, PhD Providence VA Medical Center, Providence, RI
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Responsible Party: VA Office of Research and Development
ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT03681288    
Other Study ID Numbers: D2893-P
1I21RX002893-01A1 ( U.S. NIH Grant/Contract )
First Posted: September 24, 2018    Key Record Dates
Last Update Posted: April 27, 2021
Last Verified: April 2021
Individual Participant Data (IPD) Sharing Statement:
Plan to Share IPD: Yes
Plan Description:

A de-identified, anonymized dataset will be created and shared. The principal investigator will share de-identified datasets, statistics, and results collected from this proposal by depositing these data at the National Library of Medicine (NLM) PubMed Central website repository as this is a VA supported data repository. Additional documentation including metadata that will include information about the methodology and study procedures used to collect the data, details about code, and 'definition of variables will also be included.

Both scientists and the public will benefit from sharing these data because data sharing incentivizes researchers to produce and ensure higher quality data for sharing with peers, the scientific community, and the public. Further, data sharing encourages collaboration among researchers to share resources to produce new findings and reduces redundancy of data production in scientific research, which saves investment dollars and time.

Supporting Materials: Study Protocol
Statistical Analysis Plan (SAP)
Informed Consent Form (ICF)
Clinical Study Report (CSR)
Time Frame: 6 months post publication
Access Criteria: 6 months post publication

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Studies a U.S. FDA-regulated Drug Product: No
Studies a U.S. FDA-regulated Device Product: No
Product Manufactured in and Exported from the U.S.: No
Keywords provided by VA Office of Research and Development:
substance use disorder
moral injury
Additional relevant MeSH terms:
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Substance-Related Disorders
Wounds and Injuries
Stress Disorders, Traumatic
Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic
Pathologic Processes
Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders
Mental Disorders
Chemically-Induced Disorders