Study shows psychotherapy useful in treating post-traumatic stress disorder in early stages

December 08, 2007

Boca Raton, FL, December 8, 2007 - When treated within a month, survivors of a psychologically traumatic event improved significantly with psychotherapy, according to a new study presented at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP) annual meeting.

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.
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ACNP, founded in 1961, is a professional organization of more than 700 leading scientists, including four Nobel Laureates. The mission of ACNP is to further research and education in neuropsychopharmacology and related fields in the following ways: promoting the interaction of a broad range of scientific disciplines of brain and behavior in order to advance the understanding of prevention and treatment of disease of the nervous system including psychiatric, neurological, behavioral and addictive disorders; encouraging scientists to enter research careers in fields related to these disorders and their treatment; and ensuring the dissemination of relevant scientific advances.

American College of Neuropsychopharmacology

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