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Original Article
June 2, 2008

Treatment of Acute Stress Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: School of Psychology, University of New South Wales (Drs Bryant, Felmingham, and Kenny and Mss Mastrodomenico, Hopwood, Kandris, and Cahill), Sydney; and Department of Psychiatry, University of Melbourne, Melbourne (Dr Creamer), Australia.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008;65(6):659-667. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.65.6.659
Abstract

Context  Recent trauma survivors with acute stress disorder (ASD) are likely to subsequently develop chronic posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Cognitive behavioral therapy for ASD may prevent PTSD, but trauma survivors may not tolerate exposure-based therapy in the acute phase. There is a need to compare nonexposure therapy techniques with prolonged exposure for ASD.

Objective  To determine the efficacy of exposure therapy or trauma-focused cognitive restructuring in preventing chronic PTSD relative to a wait-list control group.

Design, Setting, and Participants  A randomized controlled trial of civilians who experienced trauma and who met the diagnostic criteria for ASD (N = 90) seen at an outpatient clinic between March 1, 2002, and June 30, 2006.

Intervention  Patients were randomly assigned to receive 5 weekly 90-minute sessions of either imaginal and in vivo exposure (n = 30) or cognitive restructuring (n = 30), or assessment at baseline and after 6 weeks (wait-list group; n = 30).

Main Outcome Measures  Measures of PTSD at the 6-month follow-up visit by clinical interview and self-report assessments of PTSD, depression, anxiety, and trauma-related cognition.

Results  Intent-to-treat analyses indicated that at posttreatment, fewer patients in the exposure group had PTSD than those in the cognitive restructuring or wait-list groups (33% vs 63% vs 77%; P = .002). At follow-up, patients who underwent exposure therapy were more likely to not meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD than those who underwent cognitive restructuring (37% vs 63%; odds ratio, 2.10; 95% confidence interval, 1.12-3.94; P = .05) and to achieve full remission (47% vs 13%; odds ratio, 2.78; 95% confidence interval, 1.14-6.83; P = .005). On assessments of PTSD, depression, and anxiety, exposure resulted in markedly larger effect sizes at posttreatment and follow-up than cognitive restructuring.

Conclusions  Exposure-based therapy leads to greater reduction in subsequent PTSD symptoms in patients with ASD when compared with cognitive restructuring. Exposure should be used in early intervention for people who are at high risk for developing PTSD.

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