Challenges and Successes in Dissemination of Evidence-Based Treatments for Posttraumatic Stress: Lessons Learned From Prolonged Exposure Therapy for PTSD

Edna B Foa, Seth J Gillihan, Richard A Bryant
Psychological Science in the Public Interest: a Journal of the American Psychological Society 2013, 14 (2): 65-111
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) poses monumental public health challenges because of its contribution to mental health, physical health, and both interpersonal and social problems. Recent military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan and the multitude of resulting cases of PTSD have highlighted the public health significance of these conditions. There are now psychological treatments that can effectively treat most individuals with PTSD, including active duty military personnel, veterans, and civilians. We begin by reviewing the effectiveness of these treatments, with a focus on prolonged exposure (PE), a cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for PTSD. Many studies conducted in independent research labs have demonstrated that PE is highly efficacious in treating PTSD across a wide range of trauma types, survivor characteristics, and cultures. Furthermore, therapists without prior CBT experience can readily learn and implement the treatment successfully. Despite the existence of highly effective treatments like PE, the majority of individuals with PTSD receive treatments of unknown efficacy. Thus, it is crucial to identify the barriers and challenges that must be addressed in order to promote the widespread dissemination of effective treatments for PTSD. In this review, we first discuss some of the major challenges, such as a professional culture that often is antagonistic to evidence-based treatments (EBTs), a lack of clinician training in EBTs, limited effectiveness of commonly used dissemination techniques, and the significant cost associated with effective dissemination models. Next, we review local, national, and international efforts to disseminate PE and similar treatments and illustrate the challenges and successes involved in promoting the adoption of EBTs in mental health systems. We then consider ways in which the barriers discussed earlier can be overcome, as well as the difficulties involved in effecting sustained organizational change in mental health systems. We also present examples of efforts to disseminate PE in developing countries and the attendant challenges when mental health systems are severely underdeveloped. Finally, we present future directions for the dissemination of EBTs for PTSD, including the use of newer technologies such as web-based therapy and telemedicine. We conclude by discussing the need for concerted action among multiple interacting systems in order to overcome existing barriers to dissemination and promote widespread access to effective treatment for PTSD. These systems include graduate training programs, government agencies, health insurers, professional organizations, healthcare delivery systems, clinical researchers, and public education systems like the media. Each of these entities can play a major role in reducing the personal suffering and public health burden associated with posttraumatic stress.

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