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Evidence-Based Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

17 March 2020

Anke Ehlers, Professor of Experimental Psychopathology, University of Oxford

 

In the initial days and weeks after a traumatic event such as interpersonal violence, severe accidents, disaster, or war zone experiences, most children and young people will experience at least some symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) such as intrusive memories, sleep disturbance, feeling emotionally numb, or being easily startled. Most will recover in the following weeks and months, but for some the symptoms persist, often for years. Over the past decades, there has been significant progress in the development of psychological treatments for PTSD for those who do not recover on their own. Several trauma-focused psychological treatments have been shown to be highly efficacious and are recommended as first-line interventions for PTSD in treatment guidelines (e.g., ISTSS, 2019; NICE, 2018). These treatments have in common that they focus on the patients’ memories of their traumatic events and their personal meanings, and change unhelpful behavioral and cognitive strategies that maintain PTSD. Medication is not recommended as a treatment of PTSD for children and young people. A challenge is that access to psychological treatments is limited. Self-study assisted treatments and therapist-assisted internet-based treatments show promise and may play a role in increasing access.

 

International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies (2019). Posttraumatic stress disorder prevention and treatment guidelines. http://www.istss.org/getattachment/Treating-Trauma/New-ISTSS-Prevention-and-Treatment-Guidelines/ISTSS_PreventionTreatmentGuidelines_FNL.pdf.aspx

NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) (2018). Posttraumatic stress disorder. NICE guideline

116. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng116/resourcesм

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