Effectiveness of Three Brief Treatments for Recent Traumatic Events in a Low-SES Community Setting

Gail Ironson, Emily Hylton, Brian Gonzalez, Brent Small, Blanche Freund, Myriam Gerstein, Fabian Thurston, Lindsay Bira

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To determine whether brief treatments provide psychological relief after traumatic events in low-resource communities. Method: Participants (n = 105) who had experienced a traumatic event within the past 6 months were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 4-session treatments: individual eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), group-administered stress management with a trauma focus (SMT), or group-administered psychological first aid (PFA). Measures administered pretreatment and at 1-, 3-, and 6-month posttreatment included posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, posttraumatic cognitions (PTCI), and depressive symptoms (BDI). Results: The 3 treatment groups all showed significant declines in PTSD, PTCI, and BDI symptoms over time with large prepost effect sizes (median 1-month: 0.96, 3-month: 1.38, 6-month: 1.10). However, the treatment groups showed significantly different rates of decline, with the EMDR group showing the fastest declines-interaction PTCI: F(1, 237) = 5.85, p = .016; depression:, F(1, 239) = 4.90, p = .028-followed by the SMT and then PFA group. While there were significant differences between the EMDR and PFA groups at the 1- and 3-month follow-ups, there were no significant differences in any of the 3 outcome measures at the 6-month follow-up, nor were there significant differences between groups on PTSD symptoms, F(1, 239) = 2.30, p = .131. Conclusion: This study provides preliminary evidence that any of these 3 approaches may be useful in low-resource community settings. Because it gives the quickest relief, EMDR is the preferred approach, followed by SMT, due its ease of administration. PFA provides a reasonable alternative. Where possible, booster sessions should be planned.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPsychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy
StateAccepted/In press - 2020


  • Brief interventions
  • EMDR
  • Posttraumatic stress
  • Psychological first aid
  • Trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology

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