Traumatic stress due to conflict and war causes major mental health problems in many resource-poor countries. The objective of this study was to examine whether trained lay counselors can carry out effective treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a refugee settlement. In a randomized controlled dissemination trial in Uganda with 277 Rwandan and Somalian refugees who were diagnosed with PTSD the authors investigated the effectiveness of psychotherapy administered by lay counselors. Strictly manualized narrative exposure therapy (NET) was compared with more flexible trauma counseling (TC) and a no-treatment monitoring group (MG). Fewer participants (4%) dropped out of NET treatment than TC (21%). Both active treatment groups were statistically and clinically superior to MG on PTSD symptoms and physical health but did not differ from each other. At follow-up, a PTSD diagnosis could not be established anymore in 70% of NET and 65% TC participants, whereas only 37% in MG did not meet PTSD criteria anymore. Short-term psychotherapy carried out by lay counselors with limited training can be effective to treat war-related PTSD in a refugee settlement.
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