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Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a first-line treatment for adults with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some clinicians argue that with refugees, directly targeting traumatic memories through EMDR may be harmful or ineffective.
To determine the safety and efficacy of EMDR in adult refugees with PTSD (trial registration: ISRCTN20310201).
In total, 72 refugees referred for specialised treatment were randomly assigned to 12 h of EMDR (3×60 min planning/preparation followed by 6×90 min desensitisation/reprocessing) or 12 h (12×60 min) of stabilisation. The Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS) and Harvard Trauma Questionnaire (HTQ) were primary outcome measures.
Intention-to-treat analyses found no differences in safety (one severe adverse event in the stabilisation condition only) or efficacy (effect sizes: CAPS –0.04 and HTQ 0.20) between the two conditions.
Directly targeting traumatic memories through 12 h of EMDR in refugee patients needing specialised treatment is safe, but is only of limited efficacy.
This study aimed to identify predictors of symptom severity for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression in asylum seekers and refugees referred to a specialised mental health centre. Trauma exposure (number and domain of event), refugee status and severity of PTSD and depression were assessed in 688 refugees.
Symptom severity of PTSD and depression was significantly associated with lack of refugee status and accumulation of traumatic events. Four domains of traumatic events (human rights abuse, lack of necessities, traumatic loss, and separation from others) were not uniquely associated with symptom severity. All factors taken together explained 11% of variance in PTSD and depression.
To account for multiple predictors of symptom severity including multiple traumatic events, treatment for traumatised refugees may need to be multimodal and enable the processing of multiple traumatic memories within a reasonable time-frame.
To examine treatment response in traumatised refugees, we compared routine outcome monitoring data (Harvard Trauma Questionnaire) of two refugee populations with those of individuals experiencing profession-related trauma who were treated at a specialised psychotrauma institute.
Asylum seekers/temporary refugees (n = 21) and resettled refugees (n = 169) showed significantly lower post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptom reduction between intake and 1 year after intake than did a comparison group of non-refugees (n = 37), but the interaction effect was clinically small (partial η2 = 0.03). Refugees who had more severe symptoms at intake showed significantly greater symptom reduction after 1 year.
Therapists and refugee patients should have realistic expectations about response to treatment as usual. Additional treatment focusing on improving quality of life may be needed for refugees whose PTSD symptom severity remains high. At the same time, novel approaches may be developed to boost treatment response in refugee patients with low responsiveness.
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