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Comment & Response
October 2, 2019

Concerns Regarding a Meta-analysis Comparing Psychotherapy With Medications for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Social Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill
  • 2Department of Family Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill
  • 3Department of Psychiatry, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
JAMA Psychiatry. 2020;77(2):214-215. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.2921

To the Editor In the network and pairwise meta-analysis comparing psychotherapy with medication for treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Merz et al1 report no difference at the end of the short-term treatment period but greater benefit for psychotherapy at long-term follow-up. However, their results from the long-term pairwise meta-analysis of medications and psychotherapy are of uncertain validity because 2 of the 3 trials included in that comparison should be considered to have a high risk of bias. Merz and colleagues1 rated one of those trials as having a high risk of bias but rated another trial2 as moderate risk of bias, despite rating it to have a high risk of attrition bias and reporting bias. In that trial, which was rated to have a high risk of bias by a 2018 comprehensive meta-analysis of PTSD treatments,3 47% of the patients randomized to paroxetine refused to participate in the assigned treatment, while none of those randomized to psychotherapy refused. Based on the revised Cochrane risk-of-bias tool, this attrition would be characterized as a “deviation from the intended intervention that arose because of the experimental context”4 and would be sufficient to rate the trial as having a high risk of bias, given uncertainty about the effect of that deviation on the outcome. It is unwise to draw the conclusion that psychotherapy has greater long-term effectiveness than medications for PTSD based on a sample in which 2 of the 3 studies, comprising 75% of the participants, should be considered to have a high risk of bias.

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