Research Activities, May 2013

More and stronger research needed on the effectiveness of interventions to prevent PTSD

Mental Health

A new research review from AHRQ’s Effective Health Care Program identifies areas that require increased and more methodologically sound research about the efficacy of most interventions used to prevent posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, there is sufficient evidence to draw conclusions on some specific therapies for certain types of trauma. 

For civilian victims of injuries requiring inpatient surgical admission, collaborative care (a combination of care management, psychopharmacology, and cognitive behavioral therapy) is effective at reducing the severity of PTSD symptoms at 6-, 9-, and 12-month followup consultation. In individuals with acute stress disorder, brief trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, which includes components of exposure, cognitive restructuring, and various coping skills, is more effective in reducing the severity of PTSD symptoms than supportive counseling.

Available evidence also suggests that debriefing is not effective in reducing either the incidence or severity of PTSD or depressive symptoms at a 6-month followup in civilian victims of crime, assault, or accident trauma. Sixty percent of men and 51 percent of women report experiencing at least one traumatic event in their lifetime.  Approximately 10 to 20 percent of those individuals develop PTSD symptoms, which are associated with impaired functioning. The essential feature of PTSD is the development of characteristic symptoms such as re-experiencing a trauma, avoidance or numbing from thoughts, feelings, or activities associated with a trauma, or hyperarousal following exposure to an extreme traumatic stressor. Prevention of PTSD can potentially reduce a significant burden on individual and societal suffering.

The limited evidence underscores the need for more ongoing research in the field of PTSD prevention. Future research should use rigorous methods and collect information that would allow the development of a clinical prediction algorithm to identify people at high risk of developing PTSD after trauma exposure, and then evaluate the effectiveness of preventive interventions. 

You can access the research review Interventions for the Prevention of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Adults After Exposure to Psychological Trauma at

Page last reviewed May 2013
Page originally created May 2013
Internet Citation: More and stronger research needed on the effectiveness of interventions to prevent PTSD. Content last reviewed May 2013. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.