Phase-based treatment versus immediate trauma-focused treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder due to childhood abuse: randomised clinical trial

BJPsych Open

Noortje I. van Vliet, Rafaele J. C. Huntjens, Maarten K. van Dijk, Nathan Bachrach, Marie-Louise Meewisse & Ad de Jongh


Background: It is unclear whether people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and symptoms of complex PTSD due to childhood abuse need a treatment approach different from approaches in the PTSD treatment guidelines.

Aims: To determine whether a phase-based approach is more effective than an immediate trauma-focused approach in people with childhood-trauma related PTSD (Netherlands Trial Registry no.: NTR5991).

Method: Adults with PTSD following childhood abuse were randomly assigned to either a phase-based treatment condition (8 sessions of Skills Training in Affect and Interpersonal Regulation (STAIR), followed by 16 sessions of eye-movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy; n = 57) or an immediately trauma-focused treatment condition (16 sessions of EMDR therapy; n = 64). Participants were assessed for symptoms of PTSD and complex PTSD, and other forms of psychopathology before, during and after treatment and at 3- and 6-month follow-ups.

Results: Data were analysed with linear mixed models. No significant differences between the two treatments on any variable at post-treatment or follow-up were found. Post-treatment, 68.8% no longer met PTSD diagnostic criteria. Self-reported PTSD symptoms significantly decreased for both STAIR–EMDR therapy (d = 0.93) and EMDR therapy (d = 1.54) from pre- to post-treatment assessment, without significant difference between the two conditions. No differences in drop-out rates between the conditions were found (STAIR–EMDR 22.8% v. EMDR 17.2%). No study-related adverse events occurred.

Conclusions: This study provides compelling support for the use of EMDR therapy alone for the treatment of PTSD due to childhood abuse as opposed to needing any preparatory intervention.

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