According to current treatment guidelines for Complex PTSD (cPTSD), psychotherapy for adults with cPTSD should start with a "stabilization phase." This phase, focusing on teaching self-regulation strategies, was designed to ensure that an individual would be better able to tolerate trauma-focused treatment. The purpose of this paper is to critically evaluate the research underlying these treatment guidelines for cPTSD, and to specifically address the question as to whether a phase-based approach is needed. As reviewed in this paper, the research supporting the need for phase-based treatment for individuals with cPTSD is methodologically limited. Further, there is no rigorous research to support the views that: (1) a phase-based approach is necessary for positive treatment outcomes for adults with cPTSD, (2) front-line trauma-focused treatments have unacceptable risks or that adults with cPTSD do not respond to them, and (3) adults with cPTSD profit significantly more from trauma-focused treatments when preceded by a stabilization phase. The current treatment guidelines for cPTSD may therefore be too conservative, risking that patients are denied or delayed in receiving conventional evidence-based treatments from which they might profit.
Keywords: PTSD; complex PTSD; phase-based treatment; stabilization; treatment guidelines.
© 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.