Efficacy of exposure-based cognitive behaviour therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder in emergency service personnel: a randomised clinical trial [2018]

Although emergency service personnel experience markedly elevated the rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), there are no rigorously conducted trials for PTSD in this population. This study assessed the efficacy of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) for PTSD in emergency service personnel, and examined if brief exposure (CBT-B) to trauma memories is no less efficacious as prolonged exposure (CBT-L).

One hundred emergency service personnel with PTSD were randomised to either immediate CBT-L, CBT-B or wait-list (WL). Following post-treatment assessment, WL participants were randomised to an active treatment. Participants randomised to CBT-L or CBT-B were assessed at baseline, post-treatment and at 6-month follow-up. Both CBT conditions involved 12 weekly individual sessions comprising education, CBT skills building, imaginal exposure, in vivo exposure, cognitive restructuring and relapse prevention. Imaginal exposure occurred for 40 min per session in CBT-L and for 10 min in CBT-B.

At post-treatment, participants in WL had smaller reductions in PTSD severity (Clinician Administered PTSD Scale), depression, maladaptive appraisals about oneself and the world, and smaller improvements on psychological and social quality of life than CBT-L and CBT-B. There were no differences between CBT-L and CBT-B at follow-up on primary or secondary outcome measures but both CBT-L and CBT-B had large baseline to follow-up effect sizes for reduction of PTSD symptoms.

This study highlights that CBT, which can include either long or brief imaginal exposure, is efficacious in reducing PTSD in emergency service personnel.

Richard A. Bryant, Lucy Kenny, Natasha Rawson, Catherine Cahill, Amy Joscelyne, Benjamin Garber, Julia Tockar, Katie Dawson and Angela Nickerson

Psychological Medicine, 28 August 2018