Does Early Intervention Improve PTSD Recovery?

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Early intervention and treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) helps the majority of those who experience the disorder recover. However, a sizable number continue to struggle with PTSD for years after a traumatic event despite early interventions, according to a study recently published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

For the study, a team of researchers from NYU Langone Medical Center examined several groups of non-military individuals with PTSD over the course of 12 weeks.

In total, over 232 individuals were assessed and received either prolonged exposure therapy, cognitive therapy, treatment with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or received a placebo pill one month after the traumatic event. The team also followed individuals who declined treatment. All participants were reassessed at 5 months and 36 months later.

Both prolonged exposure and cognitive therapy effectively reduced PTSD symptoms by five months (61& better than the other groups), and symptoms remained low for three years. All other groups, including the group who declined treatment, achieved low symptoms by three years.

These findings suggest early-prolonged exposure and cognitive therapy significantly shorten recovery time for those who experience PTSD but did not reduce the overall rates of PTSD at three years.

“We assume that people living in an otherwise stable environment would have better conditions for long-term recovery than individuals who experience lengthy wars or live in a constant state of violence,” says Arieh Y. Shalev, MD, the Barbara Wilson Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center, and a co-director of NYU Langone’s Steven and Alexandra Cohen Veterans Center.

“This might explain part of their spontaneous recovery without initial treatment. However, what this study tells us at its core is that there is a significant public health challenge ahead. Individuals continually expressing initial PTSD symptoms, and who are resistant to early treatment, should be the focus of future research,” Dr. Shalev adds.

“They are the ones who remain chronically distressed and disabled, and require care long after their traumatic incident. We need to find ways to identify these subjects, increase the early favorable responses to existing treatment, and find new ways to reduce the long-term burden of PTSD.”

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