Trauma-Focused Treatment in PTSD Patients With Psychosis: Symptom Exacerbation, Adverse Events, and Revictimization

Schizophr Bull. 2016 May;42(3):693-702. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbv172. Epub 2015 Nov 24.


Objectives: Most clinicians refrain from trauma treatment for patients with psychosis because they fear symptom exacerbation and relapse. This study examined the negative side effects of trauma-focused (TF) treatment in patients with psychosis and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Methods: Analyses were conducted on data from a single-blind randomized controlled trial comparing TF treatment (N = 108; 8 sessions prolonged exposure or eye movement desensitization) and waiting list (WL; N = 47) among patients with a lifetime psychotic disorder and current chronic PTSD. Symptom exacerbation, adverse events, and revictimization were assessed posttreatment and at 6-month follow-up. Also investigated were symptom exacerbation after initiation of TF treatment and the relationship between symptom exacerbation and dropout.

Results: Any symptom exacerbation (PTSD, paranoia, or depression) tended to occur more frequently in the WL condition. After the first TF treatment session, PTSD symptom exacerbation was uncommon. There was no increase of hallucinations, dissociation, or suicidality during the first 2 sessions. Paranoia decreased significantly during this period. Dropout was not associated with symptom exacerbation. Compared with the WL condition, fewer persons in the TF treatment condition reported an adverse event (OR = 0.48, P = .032). Surprisingly, participants receiving TF treatment were significantly less likely to be revictimized (OR = 0.40, P = .035).

Conclusions: In these participants, TF treatment did not result in symptom exacerbation or adverse events. Moreover, TF treatment was associated with significantly less exacerbation, less adverse events, and reduced revictimization compared with the WL condition. This suggests that conventional TF treatment protocols can be safely used in patients with psychosis without negative side effects.

Keywords: adversities; safety; schizophrenia; trauma.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Comorbidity
  • Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing / methods*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Implosive Therapy / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care*
  • Psychotic Disorders / epidemiology
  • Psychotic Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy*