Public Release: 

Stepwise PTSD treatment helps traumatized police officers

Center for Advancing Health

Psychotherapy that involves confronting and bidding farewell to a traumatic event holds promise for police officers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), say the results of a new study. PTSD, an anxiety disorder resulting from exposure to a traumatic event, affects the individual psychologically and biologically and can have serious long-term effects.

Researchers at the University of Amsterdam's Academic Medical Center compared PTSD symptoms in 22 Dutch police officers who underwent a step-by-step treatment approach called "brief eclectic psychotherapy" (BEP) to symptoms in 20 officers who did not take part in BEP. All 42 officers were medication-free and had requested outpatient treatment following exposure to a traumatic event in the course of their work.

Each officer in the treatment group participated in 16 weekly, individual BEP sessions with a clinical psychologist who had extensive experience treating traumatized police officers. The 60-minute sessions incorporated several techniques, including education about BEP's rationale and methods, imaginary reliving of the traumatic event, collection of "mementos" such as newspaper articles and clothing associated with the traumatic event, writing about the event, exploration of the event's effects on the person, and a farewell ritual during which the police officer destroyed the mementos and celebrated regaining control of his or her life.

The researchers measured PTSD symptoms in both the treatment and control groups through structured interviews at four points in time: one week before the start of treatment, after four treatment sessions, at the end of the 16-week treatment, and three months post-treatment. The control group members were placed on a waiting list and told they would receive treatment in seven months' time; they were monitored by a psychologist in the interim.

"PTSD and the symptoms of PTSD were significantly reduced in the police officers who participated in BEP, compared to the officers who did not participate in BEP," said lead author Berthold P. R. Gersons, MD, PhD, of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Amsterdam. The researchers publish the results of their study in the April issue of the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

"Although the differences were not seen immediately, they were quite evident at the end of the 16 weeks and at three months post-treatment," said Gersons. "Therefore, we believe that BEP offers hope for police officers, and possibly others, who suffer from PTSD."

The research, which is the first to evaluate BEP, was supported by the Dutch police departments, the Prevention Fund, and the General Civil Pension Fund in The Netherlands.

The Journal of Traumatic Stress is the peer-reviewed journal of the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies. For information about the journal, contact Dean Kilpatrick, PhD, 843-792-2945. Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health http://www.cfah.org. For information about the Center, call Petrina Chong, pchong@cfah.org; 202-387-2829.

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