PTSD is a potentially debilitating anxiety disorder triggered by exposure to a traumatic experience such as an interpersonal event like physical or sexual assault, exposure to disaster or accidents, combat or witnessing a traumatic event. There are three main clusters of symptoms: firstly, those related to re-experiencing the event; secondly, those related to avoidance and arousal; and thirdly, the distress and impairment caused by the first two symptom clusters.
Both psychological therapy and pharmacotherapy have been used to treat PTSD and guidelines suggest that a combination of both may mean people recover from PTSD more effectively. Four trials including 124 participants were included in this review. One of these trials (n =24) was on children and adolescents. The trials all used SSRIs and prolonged exposure or a cognitive behavioural intervention. Only two trials reported on total PTSD symptoms but the data could not be combined.
In this review, there are too few studies to be able to draw conclusions about whether a combination of psychological therapy and pharmacotherapy result in better outcomes for patients than either of these treatments alone.
There is not enough evidence available to support or refute the effectiveness of combined psychological therapy and pharmacotherapy compared to either of these interventions alone. Further large randomised controlled trials are urgently required.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder related to exposure to a severe psychological trauma. Symptoms include re-experiencing the event, avoidance and arousal as well as distress and impairment resulting from these symptoms.
Guidelines suggest a combination of both psychological therapy and pharmacotherapy may enhance treatment response, especially in those with more severe PTSD or in those who have not responded to either intervention alone.
To assess whether the combination of psychological therapy and pharmacotherapy provides a more efficacious treatment for PTSD than either of these interventions delivered separately.
Searches were conducted on the trial registers kept by the CCDAN group (CCDANCTR-Studies and CCDANCTR-References) to June 2010. The reference sections of included studies and several conference abstracts were also scanned.
Patients of any age or gender, with chronic or recent onset PTSD arising from any type of event relevant to the diagnostic criteria were included. A combination of any psychological therapy and pharmacotherapy was included and compared to wait list, placebo, standard treatment or either intervention alone. The primary outcome was change in total PTSD symptom severity. Other outcomes included changes in functioning, depression and anxiety symptoms, suicide attempts, substance use, withdrawal and cost.
Two or three review authors independently selected trials, assessed their 'risk of bias' and extracted trial and outcome data. We used a fixed-effect model for meta-analysis. The relative risk was used to summarise dichotomous outcomes and the mean difference and standardised mean difference were used to summarise continuous measures.
Four trials were eligible for inclusion, one of these trials (n =24) was on children and adolescents. All used an SSRI and prolonged exposure or a cognitive behavioural intervention. Two trials compared combination treatment with pharmacological treatment and two compared combination treatment with psychological treatment. Only two trials reported a total PTSD symptom score and these data could not be combined. There was no strong evidence to show if there were differences between the group receiving combined interventions compared to the group receiving psychological therapy (mean difference 2.44, 95% CI -2.87, 7.35 one study, n=65) or pharmacotherapy (mean difference -4.70, 95% CI -10.84 to 1.44; one study, n = 25). Trialists reported no significant differences between combination and single intervention groups in the other two studies. There were very little data reported for other outcomes, and in no case were significant differences reported.