Interventions to prevent post-traumatic stress disorder: a systematic review

Am J Prev Med. 2013 Jun;44(6):635-50. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2013.02.013.


Context: Traumatic events are prevalent worldwide; trauma victims seek help in numerous clinical and emergency settings. Using effective interventions to prevent post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is increasingly important. This review assessed the efficacy, comparative effectiveness, and harms of psychological, pharmacologic, and emerging interventions to prevent PTSD.

Evidence acquisition: The following sources were searched for research on interventions to be included in the review: MEDLINE; Cochrane Library; CINAHL; EMBASE; PILOTS (Published International Literature on Traumatic Stress); International Pharmaceutical Abstracts; PsycINFO; Web of Science; reference lists of published literature; and unpublished literature (January 1, 1980 to July 30, 2012). Two reviewers independently selected studies, extracted data or checked accuracy, assessed study risk of bias, and graded strength of evidence. All data synthesis occurred between January and September 2012.

Evidence synthesis: Nineteen studies covered various populations, traumas, and interventions. In meta-analyses of three trials (from the same team) for people with acute stress disorder, brief trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy was more effective than supportive counseling in reducing the severity of PTSD symptoms (moderate-strength); these two interventions had similar results for incidence of PTSD (low-strength); depression severity (low-strength); and anxiety severity (moderate-strength). PTSD symptom severity after injury decreased more with collaborative care than usual care (single study; low-strength). Debriefing did not reduce incidence or severity of PTSD or psychological symptoms in civilian traumas (low-strength). Evidence about relevant outcomes was unavailable for many interventions or was insufficient owing to methodologic shortcomings.

Conclusions: Evidence is very limited regarding best practices to treat trauma-exposed individuals. Brief cognitive behavioral therapy may reduce PTSD symptom severity in people with acute stress disorder; collaborative care may help decrease symptom severity post-injury.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Primary Prevention
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / prevention & control*
  • Young Adult