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Does Writing Help Overcoming Traumatic Stress?

A randomized controlled trial performed by researchers of the University of Amsterdam evaluates writing therapy in posttraumatic stress disorder in the March issue of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.

Writing assignments have shown promising results in treating traumatic symptomatology. Yet no studies have compared their efficacy to the current treatment of choice, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT).

This study evaluated the efficacy of structured writing therapy (SWT) and CBT as compared to a waitlist control condition in treating acute stress disorder (ASD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A randomized controlled trial was conducted at an outpatient clinic. Participants (n = 125): (a) satisfied DSM-IV criteria for ASD or PTSD, (b) were 16 years or older, (c) were sufficiently fluent in Dutch or English, (d) had no psychiatric problems except ASD or PTSD that would hinder participation or required alternative clinical care, and (e) received no concurrent psychotherapy.

Treatment consisted of five 1.5-hour sessions of CBT or SWT for participants with ASD or acute PTSD and ten 1.5-hour sessions for participants with chronic PTSD. Outcome measures included the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV, Impact of Event Scale, Beck Depression Inventory, State-Trait Anxiety Inventory and the Dissociative Experiences Scale.

At posttest and follow-up, treatment was associated with improved diagnostic status and lower levels of intrusive symptoms, depression and state anxiety, while a trend was noted for the reduction of avoidance symptoms. Treatment did not result in lower levels of trait anxiety or dissociation. No differences in efficacy were detected between CBT and SWT. At the end of the study, the Authors confirmed the efficacy of CBT for ASD and PTSD and identified SWT as a promising alternative treatment.

Arnold A.P. van Emmerik | alfa
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