Effectiveness of an intensive treatment programme combining prolonged exposure and EMDR therapy for adolescents suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder

European Journal of Psychotraumatology

Ytje van Pelt, Petra Fokkema, Carlijn de Roos & Ad de Jongh

https://doi.org/10.1080/20008198.2021.1917876

Abstract

Background: Following promising effects of an intensive trauma treatment for adults, the question arises whether adolescents who suffer from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can also profit from a similar treatment programme.

Objective: To assess the effectiveness of an intensive trauma-focused treatment programme combining two evidence-based trauma-focused therapies and physical activities for adolescents suffering from severe PTSD.

Method: Treatment consisted of daily sessions of prolonged exposure (PE) therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy supplemented with physical activity (13 days on average). All patients (N = 27; 96.3% women, mean age = 16.1 years; SD = 1.3) had been exposed to one or more (interpersonal) traumatic events. Twenty-two of them (81.5%) also fulfilled the diagnostic criteria of a comorbid psychiatric disorder (mean number of comorbid disorders = 2.22). The majority of patients were referred because previous treatment was difficult or complications were expected to occur. Severity of PTSD symptoms and presence of a PTSD diagnostic status were assessed using the Dutch version of the CAPS-CA IV at baseline, post-treatment and at 3-month follow-up.

Results: CAPS-CA IV scores decreased significantly from pre- to post-treatment (Cohen’s d = 1.39). Of all patients 81.5% (n = 22) showed a clinically meaningful response, of whom 63% (n = 17) no longer fulfilled the diagnostic criteria of PTSD at post-treatment as established with the CAPS-CA IV. The results were maintained at 3-month follow-up. During treatment, neither adverse events nor dropout occurred.

Conclusions: The results suggest that an intensive trauma-focused treatment programme combining prolonged exposure, EMDR therapy, and physical activity can be an effective and safe treatment for adolescents suffering from severe PTSD and multiple comorbid psychiatric disorders.

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