Participants are allowed to stay on their prescribed psychotropic medication in most trials examining psychological interventions for adult post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
We aimed to conduct the first meta-analysis investigating the potential influence of such concurrent medication on efficacy.
To this end, we searched Medline, PsycINFO, Web of Science, and PTSDpubs from inception to April 21, 2022, for trials meeting the following criteria: (1) randomized controlled trial (RCT), (2) PTSD as primary treatment focus, (3) interview-based PTSD baseline rate ≥70%, (4) N ≥ 20, (5) mean age ≥18 years. Trials were excluded when intake of psychotropics was not (sufficiently) reported.
Most published trials did not report on the intake of psychotropic medication. A total of 75 RCTs (N = 4,901 patients) met inclusion criteria. Trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy (TF-CBT) was the most well-researched intervention. Short-term efficacy of psychological treatments did not differ by the proportion of participants taking concurrent psychotropic medication during psychological treatment in all but one analysis. In trials comparing TF-CBT and active control conditions at posttreatment, TF-CBT was more effective when most participants were concurrently medicated (g = 0.87, 95% CI 0.53-1.22) rather than unmedicated (g = 0.27; 95% CI 0.01-0.54, p = 0.017), with younger age (b1 = -0.04, p = 0.008) and higher proportion of females (b1 = 0.01, p = 0.014) being associated with higher efficacy only in trials with high proportions of medicated participants. No differences in efficacy by proportions of participants taking concurrent psychotropic medication were found at follow-up.
Results suggest that psychological interventions are effective for PTSD irrespective of concurrent intake of psychotropics.