Treatments of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Civilian Populations

Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2019 Feb 8;21(2):11. doi: 10.1007/s11920-019-0994-3.


Purpose of review: Posttraumatic stress disorder is a chronic, heterogeneous disorder for which a multitude of psychotherapies, pharmaceuticals, and immerging treatment programs are available. Majority of efficacy studies focus on Caucasian male military populations, which may be a reason why not all patients respond to treatment with long-term positive outcomes. Additionally, effects of treatment on symptom clusters have been neglected. This work reviews treatment of PTSD and its symptom clusters exclusively in civilian populations, which have been historically under-examined in the literature.

Recent findings: Exposure therapy stands at the forefront of successful PTSD treatment and offers a more cost-effective solution to pharmacotherapy; however, refugees and patients with comorbid depression may not experience such strong benefits. For exposure therapy and other forms of psychotherapy, non-inferiority studies point to promise of internet-delivered and telemedicine-based methods for reaching populations that may not have access to in-person care. SSRIs are the most widely used pharmaceutical treatment for PTSD; moderate initial benefits are observed yet long-term retention and outcomes may be enhanced by adjunct treatment. Again, refugees are a group that experiences lesser benefit. Research has begun to explore efficacy of treatments for individual symptom clusters, with hyperarousal benefiting most from currently available modalities. Avoidance, intrusion, negative thoughts and beliefs, and dissociation are symptoms requiring more research for focused interventions. Treatment of PTSD has evolved to (1) include equivalent proportions of men and women, along with focused female-exclusive cohorts; (2) explore novel methods of treatment online and in various cultural contexts; and (3) less focus on medication as evidenced by current clinical trials. In addition to further efficacy and safety studies in more diverse ethnic populations, work is needed to examine what therapies are best for targeting specific symptom clusters of PTSD. This research will drive precision treatment, and such research is beginning to point towards underlying mechanisms of pathology and change.

Keywords: Alternative therapy; PTSD; Pharmacotherapy; Precision medicine; Psychotherapy; Trauma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Depression / complications
  • Depression / therapy
  • Humans
  • Implosive Therapy*
  • Refugees / psychology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / complications
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy*