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Early trauma-focused cognitive-behavioural therapy to prevent chronic post-traumatic stress disorder and related symptoms: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Hege Kornør14*, Dagfinn Winje2, Øivind Ekeberg3, Lars Weisæth4, Ingvild Kirkehei1, Kjell Johansen5 and Asbjørn Steiro1

Author Affiliations

1 Norwegian Knowledge Centre for the Health Services, Box 7004 St. Olavplass, 0130 Oslo, Norway

2 Department of Clinical Psychology, University of Bergen, Christiesgt 12, 5015 Bergen, Norway

3 Department of Behavioural Sciences in Medicine, University of Oslo, Box 1111 Blindern, 0317 Oslo, Norway

4 Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies, Kirkev 166 Block 48, 0407 Oslo, Norway

5 Haugev 3, 5005 Bergen, Norway

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BMC Psychiatry 2008, 8:81  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-8-81

Published: 19 September 2008



Early trauma-focused cognitive-behavioural therapy (TFCBT) holds promise as a preventive intervention for people at risk of developing chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The aim of this review was to provide an updated evaluation of the effectiveness of early TFCBT on the prevention of PTSD in high risk populations.


We performed a systematic literature search in international electronic databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, CENTRAL, CINAHL, ISI and PILOTS) and included randomised controlled trials comparing TFCBT delivered within 3 months of trauma, to alternative interventions. All included studies were critically appraised using a standardised checklist. Two independent reviewers selected studies for inclusion and assessed study quality. Data extraction was performed by one reviewer and controlled by another. Where appropriate, we entered study results into meta-analyses.


Seven articles reporting the results of five RCTs were included. All compared TFCBT to supportive counselling (SC). The study population was patients with acute stress disorder (ASD) in four trials, and with a PTSD diagnosis disregarding the duration criterion in the fifth trial. The overall relative risk (RR) for a PTSD diagnosis was 0.56 (95% CI 0.42 to 0.76), 1.09 (95% CI 0.46 to 2.61) and 0.73 (95% CI 0.51 to 1.04) at 3–6 months, 9 months and 3–4 years post treatment, respectively. A subgroup analysis of the four ASD studies only resulted in RR = 0.36 (95% CI 0.17 to 0.78) for PTSD at 3–6 months. Anxiety and depression scores were generally lower in the TFCBT groups than in the SC groups.


There is evidence for the effectiveness of TFCBT compared to SC in preventing chronic PTSD in patients with an initial ASD diagnosis. As this evidence originates from one research team replications are necessary to assess generalisability. The evidence about the effectiveness of TFCBT in traumatised populations without an ASD diagnosis is insufficient.