When do trauma experts choose exposure therapy for PTSD patients? A controlled study of therapist and patient factors
To investigate when and why therapists opt for or rule out imaginal exposure (IE) for patients with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), 255 trauma experts were randomized to two conditions in which they were presented with four cases in which the patients' comorbidity and treatment preferences were manipulated. The results confirmed IE to be an underutilized approach, with the majority of professionals being undertrained in the technique. As predicted, the patient factors influenced the expert's choice of therapy: in case of a comorbid depression, IE was significantly less preferred than medication. Also, IE was significantly more likely to be offered when patients expressed a preference for trauma-focused treatment. The therapist factors were also found to be importantly related to treatment preferences, with high credibility in the technique being positively related to the therapists' preference for IE. Perceived barriers to IE, such as a fear of symptom exacerbation and dropout, were negatively related to the perceived suitability of the treatment when patients had suffered multiple traumas in childhood. The results are discussed in the light of clinical implications and the need of exposure training for trauma professionals.