Imel, Z. E., Laska, K., Jakupcak, M., & Simpson, T. L. (2013). Meta-analysis of dropout in treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 81, 394–404.
There are now a number of psychotherapies that the Society of Clinical Psychology list as effective psychotherapies available for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Approaches include prolonged exposure (PE), and cognitive processing therapy (CPT) among others (click here for examples). Therapies for PTSD also vary in how much they focus on retelling the trauma. Some treatments like trauma-focused CBT place a higher level of focus on retelling the trauma event, whereas Present Centred Therapy (PCT), which was originally conceived as a control condition, largely avoids the trauma. Patients may begin a treatment and find some aspect of it distressing resulting in discontinuation. There is ongoing debate regarding the belief that exposure-based treatments, which require the patient to retell traumatic events in detail to his or her therapist, are especially unacceptable or poorly tolerated by patients. Drop out rate is a common metric used to assess tolerability of a treatment. In the April 2013 blog I reported on a meta analysis that found that the average drop out rate in randomized controlled trials of adult psychotherapy was 19.7%. However drop out rates for PTSD in the community can be as high as 56%. Imel and colleagues conducted a meta analysis of drop out rates in randomized controlled trials of treatments for PTSD. They also assessed if drop out rates differed by the amount the therapy focused on retelling the trauma. In the meta analysis, 42 studies were included representing 1,850 patients; 17 of the studies directly compared two or more treatments. The aggregated drop out rates across all studies was 18.28%, which is not different from the rate in randomized trials of adult psychotherapy in general, but is much lower than reported in regular clinical practice. Group treatment was associated with a 12% increase in drop outs compared to individual treatment. In general, an increase in trauma focus was not associated with greater drop out rates. However, when trauma focused treatments were directly compared to PCT (a trauma avoidant intervention) in the same study, trauma-specific treatments were associated with a twofold increase in the odds of dropping out.
Many have been concerned that exposure-based therapies can lead to symptom exacerbation and result in dropout. The findings of Imel and colleagues’ meta analysis suggest that dropout rates are not significantly different among active treatments. However, PCT may be an exception to this general pattern of no differences among active treatments. Perhaps PCT should be considered a first line treatment for those who do not prefer a trauma focused treatment. In addition, providing treatment for PTSD in groups was associated with greater drop out rates possibly due to shame related to public disclosure of the trauma. The authors suggest mimicking research trial procedures in community practice in order to reduce drop out rates, such as: providing therapist training, support, and supervision; careful patient screening; regular assessment of patient progress; and ongoing contact with assistants that may promote session attendance.
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