Multiple session early psychological interventions for prevention of post-traumatic stress disorder

Traumatic events can have a significant impact on individuals', families' and communities' abilities to cope. In the past, single session interventions such as psychological debriefing were widely used with the aim of preventing continuing psychological difficulties. However, previous reviews have found that single session individual interventions have not been effective at preventing post -traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A range of other forms of intervention have been developed to try to prevent individuals exposed to trauma developing PTSD. This review evaluated the results of 11 studies that tested a diverse range of psychological interventions aimed at preventing PTSD. The results did not find any evidence to support the use of an intervention offered to everyone. There was some evidence that multiple session interventions may result in worse outcome than no intervention for some individuals. Further research is required to evaluate the most effective ways of providing psychological help in the early stages after a traumatic event.

Authors' conclusions: 

The results suggest that no psychological intervention can be recommended for routine use following traumatic events and that multiple session interventions, like single session interventions, may have an adverse effect on some individuals. The clear practice implication of this is that, at present, multiple session interventions aimed at all individuals exposed to traumatic events should not be used. Further, better designed studies that explore new approaches to early intervention are now required.

Read the full abstract...

The prevention of long-term psychological distress following traumatic events is a major concern. Systematic reviews have suggested that individual Psychological Debriefing is not an effective intervention at preventing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Recently other forms of intervention have been developed with the aim of preventing PTSD.


To examine the efficacy of multiple session early psychological interventions commenced within three months of a traumatic event aimed at preventing PTSD. Single session individual/group psychological interventions were excluded.

Search strategy: 

Computerised databases were searched systematically, the most recent search was conducted in August 2008. The Journal of Traumatic Stress and the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology were handsearched for the last two years. Personal communication was undertaken with key experts in the field.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials of any multiple session early psychological intervention or treatment (two or more sessions) designed to prevent symptoms of PTSD.

Data collection and analysis: 

Data were entered using Review Manager software. The methodological quality of included studies was assessed individually by two review authors. Data were analysed for summary effects using Review Manager 4.2. Mean difference was used for meta-analysis of continuous outcomes and relative risk for dichotomous outcomes.

Main results: 

Eleven studies with a total of 941 participants were found to have evaluated brief psychological interventions aimed at preventing PTSD in individuals exposed to a specific traumatic event, examining a heterogeneous range of interventions. Eight studies were entered into meta-analysis. There was no observable difference between treatment and control conditions on primary outcome measures for these interventions at initial outcome (k=5, n=479; RR 0.84; 95% CI 0.60 to 1.17). There was a trend for increased self-report of PTSD symptoms at 3 to 6 month follow-up in those who received an intervention (k=4, n=292; SMD 0.23; 95% CI 0.00 to 0.46). Two studies compared a memory structuring intervention against supportive listening. There was no evidence supporting the efficacy of this intervention.