Council of Representatives approves APA clinical practice guideline on post-traumatic stress disorder

Guideline can help inform healthcare providers’ plans for treating patients.

On Feb. 24, 2017, the APA Council of Representatives voted 134-28, with six council members abstaining, to approve as APA policy a clinical practice guideline on treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in adults. The guideline was developed by a multidisciplinary panel of scientists, clinicians and community members.

The adopted guideline summarizes existing research and makes recommendations on the efficacy of both psychological and pharmacological interventions for PTSD. The recommendations are not intended to be mandates or to supplant clinician judgment, but to help guide health care providers and their patients in making decisions about treatment options. The guideline will also be useful for policymakers and insurance administrators who use guidelines to make treatment coverage decisions.

"The Clinical Practice Guideline for the Treatment of PTSD in Adults, the first to be developed by APA using the stringent Institute of Medicine standards for guideline development, establishes a benchmark for treatment efficacy at the present time and sets a foundation for future studies and emerging treatments. In addition to making recommendations for psychosocial and psychopharmacological treatments, the guidelines speak to gaps in the present literature and future research needs,” said Christine A. Courtois, PhD, ABPP. Courtois served as chair of the panel that developed the PTSD guideline.   

The initiative to develop guidelines was adopted in 2010 and helps to satisfy the aim in APA’s strategic plan to expand the translation of psychological science to clinical practice. Although most health care disciplines have clinical practice guidelines, there are few other guidelines that address mental and behavioral health or that make recommendations regarding psychological interventions. While the American Psychiatric Association has created guidelines, those historically have placed greater emphasis on medication treatments. The Veterans Administration/Department of Defense guideline on PTSD focuses specifically on veteran and military populations, while APA’s guideline covers all adults.

APA is also currently working on developing clinical practice guidelines for the treatment of depression across the lifespan and of obesity in children and adolescents.  

In addition to the PTSD guideline, the council formally requested that APA governance groups develop a document that would discuss in greater depth how psychologists approach treatment, including how to incorporate clinical practice guidelines into their work. This document would address such issues as how choices among recommended treatments are to be made, when and how to incorporate other interventions, and how to be responsive to the diverse characteristics and contexts of patients.

APA staff are in the process of developing a website that will contain training materials for treatments recommended in the PTSD guideline, along with other tools for clinicians, consumers, policymakers and insurers. Further information on APA’s guideline development initiative is available on the APA Clinical Practice Guideline Development webpage.