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The Use of Exposure Therapy for Patients with PTSD or a History of Trauma

23 July 2018


Despite popular clinician opinion to the possible harmful effects of exposure therapy, research has continued to support the use of exposure therapy for patients with PTSD or a history of trauma. This study utilizes empirical studies of exposure therapy and those diagnosed with PTSD to analyze the rate of participant attrition and adverse events. Similarly, it utilizes small semi-structured interviews with clinicians in 2 county areas within Oregon to determine how often clinicians who specialize in trauma or PTSD are using exposure therapy in their practice. Results showed that, out of 19 research studies or meta-analyses included, an attrition rate of 0-54% was found, with only 4 of these studies showing an attrition rate of less than 17%. One study was conducted in a clinical setting that found only 32 of 115 participants completed treatment, garnering a success or completion rate of under 28%. The majority of these patients (58%) dropped out of treatment after receiving information about how exposure therapy would work; of the remaining 48 patients willing to participate, 28% dropped out before completing treatment. Clinician interviews illustrated that negative perceptions of exposure therapy made clinicians hesitant to utilize this treatment with their patients. Clinicians argued that exposure therapy could retraumatize patients, cause an increase in symptomatology, cause serious adverse events in patients, and increase patient withdrawal from treatment.


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