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Abstracts: PTSD and Disaster Psychiatry
FOCUS 2009;7:217-220.
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North CS, Suris AM, Davis M, Smith RP.

American Journal of Psychiatry20091; 166( 1): 34— 41

Unlike most psychiatric diagnoses, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is defined in relation to a potentially etiologic event (the traumatic "stressor criterion") that is fundamental to its conceptualization. The diagnosis of PTSD thus inherently depends on two separate but confounded processes: exposure to trauma and development of a specific pattern of symptoms that appear following the trauma. Attempts to define the range of trauma exposure inherent in the diagnosis of PTSD have generated controversy, as reflected in successive revisions of the criterion from DSM-III onward. It is still not established whether or not there are specific types of traumatic events and levels of exposure to them that are associated with a syndrome that is cohesive in clinical characteristics, biological correlates, familial patterns, and longitudinal diagnostic stability. On the other hand, the symptomatic description of PTSD is becoming more clear. Of three categories of symptoms associated with PTSD—intrusive memories, avoidance and numbing, and hyperarousal—avoidance and numbing appear to be the most specific for identification of PTSD. Research is now poised to answer questions about the relevance of traumatic events based on their relationship to symptomatic outcome. The authors recommend that future research begin with existing diagnostic criteria, testing and further refining them in accordance with the classic Robins and Guze strategy for validation of psychiatric diagnoses. In this process, diligent adherence to the criteria under examination is paramount to successful PTSD research, and changes in criteria are driven by empirical data rather than theory. Collaborations among trauma research biologists, epidemiologists, and nosologists to map the correspondence between the clinical and biological indicators of psychopathology are necessary to advance validation and further understanding of PTSD.

Bryant RA, Mastrodomenico J, Felmingham KL, Hopwood S, Kenny L, Kandris E, Cahill C, Creamer M.

Archives of General Psychiatry20081; 65( 6): 659— 67

Context: Recent trauma survivors with acute stress disorder (ASD) are likely to subsequently develop chronic posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Cognitive behavioral therapy for ASD may prevent PTSD, but trauma survivors may not tolerate exposure-based therapy in the acute phase. There is a need to compare nonexposure therapy techniques with prolonged exposure for ASD. Objective: To determine the efficacy of exposure therapy or trauma-focused cognitive restructuring in preventing chronic PTSD relative to a wait-list control group. Design, Setting, and Participants: A randomized controlled trial of civilians who experienced trauma and who met the diagnostic criteria for ASD (N = 90) seen at an outpatient clinic between March 1, 2002, and June 30, 2006. Intervention: Patients were randomly assigned to receive 5 weekly 90-minute sessions of either imaginal and in vivo exposure (n = 30) or cognitive restructuring (n = 30), or assessment at baseline and after 6 weeks (wait-list group; n = 30). Main Outcome Measures: Measures of PTSD at the 6-month follow-up visit by clinical interview and self-report assessments of PTSD, depression, anxiety, and trauma-related cognition. Results: Intent-to-treat analyses indicated that at posttreatment, fewer patients in the exposure group had PTSD than those in the cognitive restructuring or wait-list groups (33% vs 63% vs 77%; P = .002). At follow-up, patients who underwent exposure therapy were more likely to not meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD than those who underwent cognitive restructuring (37% vs 63%; odds ratio, 2.10; 95% confidence interval, 1.12—3.94; P = .05) and to achieve full remission (47% vs 13%; odds ratio, 2.78; 95% confidence interval, 1.14—6.83; P = .005). On assessments of PTSD, depression, and anxiety, exposure resulted in markedly larger effect sizes at posttreatment and follow-up than cognitive restructuring. Conclusions: Exposure-based therapy leads to greater reduction in subsequent PTSD symptoms in patients with ASD when compared with cognitive restructuring. Exposure should be used in early intervention for people who are at high risk for developing PTSD.

Bryant RA, Felmingham K, Kemp A, Das P, Hughes G, Peduto A, Williams L.

Psychol Med. 20084; 38( 4): 555— 61. Epub 2007 Nov 16

Background: Although cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is the treatment of choice for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), approximately half of patients do not respond to CBT. No studies have investigated the capacity for neural responses during fear processing to predict treatment response in PTSD. Method: Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) responses of the brain were examined in individuals with PTSD (n = 14). fMRI was examined in response to fearful and neutral facial expressions presented rapidly in a backwards masking paradigm adapted for a 1.5 T scanner. Patients then received eight sessions of CBT that comprised education, imaginal and in vivo exposure, and cognitive therapy. Treatment response was assessed 6 months after therapy completion. Results: Seven patients were treatment responders (defined as a reduction of 50% of pretreatment scores) and seven were non-responders. Poor improvement after treatment was associated with greater bilateral amygdala and ventral anterior cingulate activation in response to masked fearful faces. Conclusions: Excessive fear responses in response to fear-eliciting stimuli may be a key factor in limiting responses to CBT for PTSD. This excessive amygdala response to fear may reflect difficulty in managing anxiety reactions elicited during CBT, and this factor may limit optimal response to therapy.

Bisson J, Andrew M.

Cochrane Database Systematic Reviews2007718; ( 3): CD003388

Background: Psychological interventions are widely used in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Objectives: To perform a systematic review of randomised controlled trials of all psychological treatments following the guidelines of The Cochrane Collaboration. Search Strategy: Systematic searches of computerised databases, hand search of the Journal of Traumatic Stress, searches of reference lists, known websites and discussion fora, and personal communication with key workers. Selection Criteria: Types of studies - Any randomised controlled trial of a psychological treatment. Types of participants - Adults suffering from traumatic stress symptoms for three months or more. Types of interventions - Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy/exposure therapy (TFCBT); stress management (SM); other therapies (supportive therapy, non-directive counselling, psychodynamic therapy and hypnotherapy); group cognitive behavioural therapy (group CBT); eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR). Types of outcomes - Severity of clinician rated traumatic stress symptoms. Secondary measures included self-reported traumatic stress symptoms, depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, adverse effects and dropouts. Data Collection and Analysis: Data were entered using Review Manager software. Quality assessments were performed. Data were analysed for summary effects using Review Manager 4.2. Main Results: Thirty-three studies were included in the review. With regards to reduction of clinician assessed PTSD symptoms measured immediately after treatment TFCBT did significantly better than waitlist/usual care (standardised mean difference (SMD) = −1.40; 95% CI, −1.89 to −0.91; 14 studies; n = 649). There was no significant difference between TFCBT and SM (SMD = −0.27; 95% CI, −0.71 to 0.16; 6 studies; n = 239). TFCBT did significantly better than other therapies (SMD = −0.81; 95% CI, −1.19 to −0.42; 3 studies; n = 120). Stress management did significantly better than waitlist/usual care (SMD = −1.14; 95% CI, −1.62 to −0.67; 3 studies; n = 86) and than other therapies (SMD = −1.22; 95% CI, −2.09 to −0.35; 1 study; n = 25). There was no significant difference between other therapies and waitlist/usual care control (SMD = −0.43; 95% CI, −0.90 to 0.04; 2 studies; n = 72). Group TFCBT was significantly better than waitlist/usual care (SMD = −0.72; 95% CI, −1.14 to −0.31). EMDR did significantly better than waitlist/usual care (SMD = −1.51; 95% CI, −1.87 to −1.15; 5 studies; n = 162). There was no significant difference between EMDR and TFCBT (SMD = 0.02; 95% CI, −0.28 to 0.31; 6 studies; n = 187). There was no significant difference between EMDR and SM (SMD = −0.35; 95% CI, −0.90 to 0.19; 2 studies; n = 53). EMDR did significantly better than other therapies (self-report) (SMD = − 0.84; 95% CI, −1.21 to −0.47; 2 studies; n = 124). Authors' Conclusions: There was evidence individual TFCBT, EMDR, stress management and group TFCBT are effective in the treatment of PTSD. Other non-trauma focused psychological treatments did not reduce PTSD symptoms as significantly. There was some evidence that individual TFCBT and EMDR are superior to stress management in the treatment of PTSD at between 2 and 5 months following treatment, and also that TFCBT, EMDR and stress management were more effective than other therapies. There was insufficient evidence to determine whether psychological treatment is harmful. There was some evidence of greater drop-out in active treatment groups. The considerable unexplained heterogeneity observed in these comparisons, and the potential impact of publication bias on these data, suggest the need for caution in interpreting the results of this review.

Bisson JI, Ehlers A, Matthews R, Pilling S, Richards D, Turner S.

The British Journal of Psychiatry20072; 190: 97— 104

Background: The relative efficacy of different psychological treatments for chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is unclear. Aims: To determine the efficacy of specific psychological treatments for chronic PTSD. Method: In a systematic review of randomised controlled trials, eligible studies were assessed against methodological quality criteria and data were extracted and analysed. Results: Thirty-eight randomised controlled trials were included in the meta-analysis. Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioural therapy (TFCBT), eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), stress management and group cognitive-behavioural therapy improved PTSD symptoms more than waiting-list or usual care. There was inconclusive evidence regarding other therapies. There was no evidence of a difference in efficacy between TFCBT and EMDR but there was some evidence that TFCBT and EMDR were superior to stress management and other therapies, and that stress management was superior to other therapies. Conclusions: The first-line psychological treatment for PTSD should be trauma-focused (TFCBT or EMDR).

Seidler GH, Wagner FE.

Psychol Med. 200611; 36( 11): 1515— 22

Background: Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) are both widely used in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There has, however, been debate regarding the advantages of one approach over the other. This study sought to determine whether there was any evidence that one treatment was superior to the other. Method: We performed a systematic review of the literature dating from 1989 to 2005 and identified eight publications describing treatment outcomes of EMDR and CBT in active-active comparisons. Seven of these studies were investigated meta-analytically. Results: The superiority of one treatment over the other could not be demonstrated. Trauma-focused CBT and EMDR tend to be equally efficacious. Differences between the two forms of treatment are probably not of clinical significance. While the data indicate that moderator variables influence treatment efficacy, we argue that because of the small number of original studies, little benefit is to be gained from a closer examination of these variables. Further research is needed within the framework of randomized controlled trials. Conclusions: Our results suggest that in the treatment of PTSD, both therapy methods tend to be equally efficacious. We suggest that future research should not restrict its focus to the efficacy, effectiveness and efficiency of these therapy methods but should also attempt to establish which trauma patients are more likely to benefit from one method or the other. What remains unclear is the contribution of the eye movement component in EMDR to treatment outcome.

Foa EB, Zoellner LA, Feeny NC.

J Trauma Stress. 20062; 19( 1): 29— 43

Ninety female recent assault survivors who met symptom criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were randomized to one of three interventions: Brief Cognitive Behavioral Intervention, which focused on processing the traumatic event (B-CBT); assessment condition (AC); or supportive counseling (SC). Within 4 weeks of an assault, participants met weekly with a therapist for four 2-hr sessions. Across all interventions, participants reported decreases in PTSD symptoms, depression, and anxiety over time. At postintervention, participants in B-CBT reported greater decreases in self-reported PTSD severity and a trend toward lower anxiety than those in SC. At 3-month follow-up, participants in B-CBT evidenced lower general anxiety than those in SC and a trend toward lower self-reported PTSD severity. At last available follow-up (on average, 9-months postassault), all three interventions were generally similar in outcome. These findings suggest that a trauma-focused intervention aimed at those with severe PTSD symptoms after an assault can accelerate recovery.

Dan J Stein, Jonathan C Ipser, Soraya Seedat

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews200625: CD002795

Background: Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a prevalent and disabling disorder. Evidence that PTSD is characterised by specific psychobiological dysfunctions has contributed to a growing interest in the use of medication in its treatment. Objectives: To assess the effects of medication for post traumatic stress disorder. Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Depression, Anxiety and Neurosis Group specialised register (CCDANCTR-Studies) on 18 August 2005, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library issue 4, 2004), MEDLINE (January 1966 to December 2004), PsycINFO (1966 to 2004), and the National PTSD Center Pilots database. Reference lists of retrieved articles were searched for additional studies. Selection criteria: All randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of pharmacotherapy for PTSD. Data collection and analysis: Two raters independently assessed RCTs for inclusion in the review, collated trial data, and assessed trial quality. Investigators were contacted to obtain missing data. Summary statistics were stratified by medication class, and by medication agent for the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Dichotomous and continuous measures were calculated using a random effects model, heterogeneity was assessed, and subgroup/sensitivity analyses were undertaken. Main results: 35 short-term (14 weeks or less) RCTs were included in the analysis (4597 participants). Symptom severity for 17 trials was significantly reduced in the medication groups, relative to placebo (weighted mean difference −5.76, 95% confidence intervals (CI) −8.16 to −3.36, number of participants (N) = 2507). Similarly, summary statistics for responder status from 13 trials demonstrated overall superiority of a variety of medication agents to placebo (relative risk 1.49, 95% CI 1.28 to 1.73, number needed to treat = 4.85, 95% CI 3.85 to 6.25, N = 1272). Medication and placebo response occurred in 59.1% (N = 644) and 38.5% (628) of patients, respectively. Of the medication classes, evidence of treatment efficacy was most convincing for the SSRIs. Medication was superior to placebo in reducing the severity of PTSD symptom clusters, comorbid depression and disability. Medication was also less well tolerated than placebo. A narrative review of 3 maintenance trials suggested that long term medication may be required in treating PTSD. Authors' conclusions: Medication treatments can be effective in treating PTSD, acting to reduce its core symptoms, as well as associated depression and disability. The findings of this review support the status of SSRIs as first line agents in the pharmacotherapy of PTSD, as well as their value in long-term treatment. However, there remain important gaps in the evidence base, and a continued need for more effective agents in the management of PTSD.

Given space limitations and varying reprint permission policies, not all of the influential publications the editors considered reprinting in this issue could be included. This section contains abstracts from additional articles the editors deemed well worth reviewing.




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