Current Psychiatry Reports

, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp 247-253

First online:

Managing acute stress response to major trauma

  • Patricia J. WatsonAffiliated withNational Center for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Veterans Affairs Regional Medical Center
  • , Matthew J. Friedman
  • , Josef I. Ruzek
  • , Fran Norris

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In this article, the authors review the current empiric literature on early interventions. Findings on the effects, course, help-seeking, and recovery from disasters are first reviewed, with recommendations given that are pertinent to intervention following mass casualties. In reviewing the most commonly used interventions, it is clear that evidence from well-controlled studies showing that early intervention can help prevent longer-term problems is limited. The authors discuss the approaches that have received the most attention or empiric support as early interventions following trauma, which include psychologic debriefing, cognitive-behavioral interventions, eye movement desensitization and processing (EMDR) and other neoteric approaches, and psychopharmacology. At this time, the most promising results for prevention of psychopathology have been achieved with brief four- or five-session cognitive-behavioral therapy. In contrast, randomized clinical trials on psychologic debriefing currently suggest that this approach is either ineffective at preventing psychopathology, or contributive to posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms. Research support is currently lacking for EMDR and pharmacotherapy as early interventions. A major challenge to the field is to integrate the practical experience and knowledge of professional responders with well-controlled, timely intervention research, and to effectively disseminate these findings to practitioners in the field.