Why demographics – including sexual orientation – matter in PTSD research

A while ago I started Paper in a Day to get young trauma researchers together. It has been engaging and productive (if you’re interested, the upcoming ISTSS conference will feature one). In a recent edition, four clever minds – Drs Averill, Eubanks Fleming, Holens and Larsen – have thought through research gaps in the PTSD literature. They published a commentary and I wanted to share their thoughts here. They reflect on one of the biggest areas of trauma research, the experiences of military personnel:

As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continue, and military service members continue to return home from these two conflicts, more research has been conducted to examine rates of PTSD among these service members (known in the US as OEF/OIF Veterans i.e. Veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom). This research is important so that we have an understanding of the need for healthcare in newer returning Veterans (which may differ from previous generations). In reviewing some of these articles, many of which are quite well-designed, we noticed a need for some further study to understand the nuances of who develops PTSD and why.

In particular, it would be useful to examine how PTSD prevalence in US OEF/OIF Veterans depends on 1) Veterans Affairs services use (with a particular focus on non-VA users), 2) relationship status, and 3) sexual orientation. Continue reading

Is a trauma focus truly needed in PTSD treatment?

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Last month Joris Haagen shared Part 1 of a saga around the question whether a trauma focus is truly necessary in trauma treatment. Based on a meta-analysis, Benish, Wampold and their colleagues concluded that the answer is No. Their analysis, and in particular the selection of studies, was heavily criticized by Ehlers et al. However, Wampold was not easily defeated and offered a riposte…Over to Joris:

Wampold et al. (2010) argue that their classification criteria are in fact more objective than previous meta-analyses and that the content of supportive therapies in research studies does not match supportive therapy as given in daily practice. For example, no therapist would normally dissuade their client from discussing traumatic experiences as is often the case in experimental studies. Wampold et al. also note that supportive interventions are difficult to capture in a single category because their content varies.

They further state that the distinction that Ehlers et al. make between trauma-focused and non-trauma-focused therapy is not clear-cut. TF-CBT has for instance considerable overlap with stress inoculation therapy (SIT) despite SIT not being considered trauma-focused. A neuro-feedback study is categorized as trauma-focused exposure, even though patients have no possibility to discuss traumatic content. Hypnotherapy and psychodynamic therapy are categorized as non-trauma-focused although both allow for – and even encourage – discussion of traumatic memories. As such, Wampold et al. stood by their view that the available research did not demonstrate the difference between trauma-focused and non-trauma-focused therapy.

Both groups display – at first glance – fundamentally different positions. Continue reading

Do we let patients suffer needlessly?

Joris HaagenPTSD treatment guidelines invariably point to trauma-focused therapy, such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) as preferred interventions. Is the trauma focus justified? Researcher and psychologist Joris Haagen tells the story of a heated academic debate…

An article by Benish, Imel and Wampold (2008) challenged our belief in the necessity of a trauma focus. According to the authors it does not matter which psychological intervention we employ and whether it is trauma-focused or not. Could this mean that traumatized patients needlessly suffer from therapeutic exposure to horrific memories? The article was the start of a fiery debate between prominent researchers.

Let’s start with the initial article itself. Dr. Benish et al. published a meta-analysis with data from 15 studies and 958 patients in PTSD treatment. The aims of their meta-analysis were most unusual; whereas the last decades were dedicated to the discovery of the most effective therapies, based on the assumption that the effectiveness varies between interventions, Benish et al. assumed and tested the reverse: all therapeutically-intended interventions are equally efficacious. Continue reading

One in six children develops PTSD after trauma, but differences exist

children and PTSDHow many children develop Posttraumatic Stress Disorder after a traumatic experience such as an assault, a car crash, war or disaster? William Yule – one of the godfathers of child traumatic stress research – once pointed out that rates reported in separate studies varied from 0 to 100%.

So what is the average rate to be expected? With an international team of collaborators, we conducted a meta-analysis to answer this question.

The wide variety in individual study results suggests that various factors may be in play: apparently not every type of exposure, set of circumstances or group of children is related to similar PTSD rates. In addition, there may be methodological variation in the studies. Continue reading

Mental health consequences of childhood cancer

mental health childhood cancerWorldwide, more than 175,000 new cases of childhood cancer are diagnosed each year.

Georgie Johnstone, a recent vacation scholar at the Trauma Recovery Lab talks you through some thought-provoking new research on cancer and PTSD.

Overall, in children under 15 years living in the industrialised world, childhood cancer is the 4th most common cause of death. However, childhood cancer is no longer the death sentence it once was, with overall survival rates in high-income countries now at about 80 percent.

How are survivors affected by the potentially traumatic experience of their diagnosis and treatment, and how does it impact on the rest of their life and that of their family? Research has indicated that cancer survivors are at an increased risk not only from somatic late effects related to cancer and treatment, but also for depression, anxiety and antisocial behaviour. Lifetime prevalence of cancer-related PTSD has been estimated at 20-35% in survivors and 27-54% in their parents. However, new research in the Journal of Clinical Oncology has challenged these estimates.

The risk of a focusing illusion
Continue reading