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Biol Psychiatry. 2003 May 1;53(9):817-26.

Early psychological interventions for adult survivors of trauma: a review.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Institute of Psychiatry, London, United Kingdom


Psychological interventions after traumatic events have only recently been evaluated in randomized, controlled trials. Recent systematic reviews concluded that single sessions of individual psychological debriefing are not effective in reducing distress or subsequent posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. The present article reviews trials of early cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) after trauma. Cognitive behavioral therapy was more effective than supportive counseling in preventing chronicity of PTSD symptoms; however, in most available studies it remained unclear whether supportive counseling facilitated or retarded recovery, compared with no intervention. A brief CBT program given in the first month of trauma was not superior to repeated assessment; however, a course of CBT of up to 16 sessions given at 1-4 months after trauma was superior to self-help, repeated assessment, and no intervention. Possible reasons for the difference in efficacy between CBT and debriefing or self-help are discussed. These include the way of working through traumatic memories and the impact of the interventions on patients' interpretations of their PTSD symptoms. Possible ways of identifying people who are in need of specialist psychological intervention after trauma and who are unlikely to recover on their own are discussed. Some ideas for alternative ways of offering help to trauma survivors are presented, and methodologic suggestions for future research are given.

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