A new study finds that acute psychotherapy provides significant symptom reduction for survivors of a psychologically traumatic event.
Researchers discovered cognitive therapy initiated within a month of the event may prevent subsequent trauma-related suffering.
Lead researcher and ACNP member Arieh Shalev, M.D., Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and founding Director of the Center for Traumatic Stress at Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem, studied 248 adults with early symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following a traumatic event that had occurred no more than four weeks earlier.
His goal was to determine which forms of treatment given soon after the traumatic event can prevent the development of chronic PTSD. Officially, PTSD cannot be diagnosed until four weeks after a traumatic event.
However, symptoms that occur before four weeks often persist, and effective early intervention may prevent subsequent trauma-related suffering.
Patients were treated for 12 weeks with cognitive therapy (which helps people change unproductive or harmful thought patterns), cognitive behavioral therapy (which helps densensitize patients’ upsetting reactions to traumatic memories), an antidepressant (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) known to be helpful in treating chronic PTSD, placebo or no intervention at all.
“We found that cognitive therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy worked well on these patients, whose symptoms and duration of PTSD were compared at the end of 3 months of intervention. At that time, their symptoms were significantly less severe than in patients who were treated with medication, placebo, or no treatment at all,” Shalev says.
Shalev added that although antidepressants did not work during this early post-trauma period, it is important to continue exploration of pharmacological interventions for early treatment of PTSD.
Shalev says that other research suggests that both pharmacotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy can be partially effective for PTSD when given three months or more after a traumatic event. He adds that it is important for PTSD survivors to know recovery is still possible even if treatment is not received immediately.
Nevertheless, Shalev adds that his results indicate that it is best for survivors to be treated as early as possible.