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J Affect Disord. 2011 Jun;131(1-3):8-23. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2010.07.005. Epub 2010 Aug 13.

Psychosocial treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder in adult refugees: a systematic review of prospective treatment outcome studies and a critique.

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National Centre for Psychotraumatology, University of Southern Denmark, Denmark.



Refugees with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often present with complicated traumatic symptoms, prolonged and repeated exposure to traumatic events, acculturation, and social problems. A consensus about suitability of psychosocial treatments for refugees does not exist. Never the less there is a need to review the state of knowledge about effective treatments for traumatized refugees, to help guide the practitioners in their choice of treatment methods.


A systematic review of treatment outcome studies was carried out.


Twenty-five studies were reviewed. The majority were treatment studies of different forms of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). The rest were reports of outcomes of alternative treatments and a small group of studies of multidisciplinary treatments.


The amount of grey literature not covered by the review could not be estimated precisely. Included studies are methodologically diverse and consist of different refugee populations. This makes a broad interpretation of the treatment results only tentative.


Very large effect sizes were obtained in some of the CBT studies, indicating a broad suitability of CBT in the treatment of core symptoms of PTSD in adult refugees. Empirical evidence also points to the possibility that the maladaptive traumatic reactions in refugees can take shape of more complex reactions than those strictly specified in the diagnostic category of PTSD. Effectiveness of CBT treatments has as yet not been tested on the whole range of symptoms in these complex cases. There are few studies of treatments alternative to CBT and they are less methodologically rigorous than the CBT studies.

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