Immediate and early behavioral interventions for the prevention of acute and posttraumatic stress disorder

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Abstract

Purpose of review

The development of acute and posttraumatic stress symptoms after a traumatic event is common and often leads to personal distress, functional impairment, and economic consequences in trauma victims and their loved ones. Hence, the prevention of acute and chronic posttraumatic stress is an important public health priority. This article aims to review the current evidence regarding immediate (within hours) and early (within days and weeks) psychological and behavioral interventions to prevent posttraumatic stress symptoms.

Recent findings

Acute distress management, psychological debriefing and other immediate unspecific interventions within the first hours following a traumatic event have so far not demonstrated efficacy in preventing posttraumatic stress symptoms. So far, there are no randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that have examined immediate trauma-focused cognitive behavioral interventions. In contrast, some, but not many, studies have shown that cognitive behavioral interventions are efficacious if administered within days or weeks after a traumatic event. For other early interventions after trauma exposure, there is no, or only weak, evidence in support of their efficacy. However, conclusions are limited by the small numbers of trials examining immediate and early interventions.

Summary

Today, there is no empirical evidence to support any immediate intervention within hours after the traumatic event to prevent posttraumatic stress symptoms. With regard to early interventions in the first days or weeks after trauma, literature is also sparse, but supports brief cognitive behavioral interventions as a first choice. There is an urgent need for RCTs to examine if behavioral interventions immediately following a traumatic event might be able to reduce the burden of acute and posttraumatic stress symptoms.

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