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Original Articles

A Randomized Clinical Trial of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Fluoxetine, and Pill Placebo in the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Treatment Effects and Long-Term Maintenance

Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD; Joseph Spinazzola, PhD; Margaret E. Blaustein, PhD; James W. Hopper, PhD; Elizabeth K. Hopper, PhD; Deborah L. Korn, PsyD; and William B. Simpson, PhD

Published: January 15, 2007

Article Abstract

Objective: The relative short-term efficacy and long-term benefits of pharmacologic versus psychotherapeutic interventions have not been studied for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This study compared the efficacy of a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), fluoxetine, with a psychotherapeutic treatment, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and pill placebo and measured maintenance of treatment gains at 6-month follow-up.

Method: Eighty-eight PTSD subjects diagnosed according to DSM-IV criteria were randomly assigned to EMDR, fluoxetine, or pill placebo. They received 8 weeks of treatment and were assessed by blind raters posttreatment and at 6-month follow-up. The primary outcome measure was the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale, DSM-IV version, and the secondary outcome measure was the Beck Depression Inventory-II. The study ran from July 2000 through July 2003.

Results: The psychotherapy intervention was more successful than pharmacotherapy in achieving sustained reductions in PTSD and depression symptoms, but this benefit accrued primarily for adult-onset trauma survivors. At 6-month follow-up, 75.0% of adult-onset versus 33.3% of child-onset trauma subjects receiving EMDR achieved asymptomatic end-state functioning compared with none in the fluoxetine group. For most childhood-onset trauma patients, neither treatment produced complete symptom remission.

Conclusions: This study supports the efficacy of brief EMDR treatment to produce substantial and sustained reduction of PTSD and depression in most victims of adult-onset trauma. It suggests a role for SSRIs as a reliable first-line intervention to achieve moderate symptom relief for adult victims of childhood-onset trauma. Future research should assess the impact oflengthier intervention, combination treatments, and treatment sequencing on the resolution of PTSD in adults with childhood-onset trauma.

Volume: 68

Quick Links: PTSD , Trauma

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