Symptom exacerbations in trauma-focused treatments: Associations with treatment outcome and non-completion.


Journal Article

Trauma-focused treatments are underutilized, partially due to clinician concerns that they will cause symptom exacerbation or dropout. We examined a sample of women undergoing Prolonged Exposure (PE), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), and a version of CPT (CPT-C) without a written trauma narrative to investigate the possibility of symptom exacerbation. Participants (n = 192) were drawn from two RCT's. Participants were administered self-report measures of PTSD symptoms (i.e., the PTSD Symptom Scale or Posttraumatic Diagnostic Scale [PSS/PDS]) and the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale. Exacerbations were defined as increases greater than 6.15 points on the PSS/PDS. A minority of participants experienced PTSD exacerbations during treatment, and there were no significant differences across treatment type (28.6% in CPT, 20.0% in PE, and 14.7% in CPT-C). Neither diagnostic nor trauma-related factors at pre-treatment predicted symptom exacerbations. Those who experienced exacerbations had higher post-treatment PSS/PDS scores and were more likely to retain a PTSD diagnosis (both small but statistically significant effects). However, even those who experienced an exacerbation experienced clinically significant improvement by end of treatment. Further, symptom exacerbations were not related to treatment non-completion. These results indicate that trauma-focused treatments are safe and effective, even for the minority of individuals who experience temporary symptom increases.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Larsen, SE; Wiltsey Stirman, S; Smith, BN; Resick, PA

Published Date

  • February 2016

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 77 /

Start / End Page

  • 68 - 77

PubMed ID

  • 26731171

Pubmed Central ID

  • 26731171

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1873-622X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.brat.2015.12.009


  • eng

Conference Location

  • England