Psychological interventions for ICD-11 complex PTSD symptoms: Systematic review and meta-analysis

Thanos Karatzias, Philip Murphy, Marylene Cloitre, Jonathan Bisson, Neil Roberts, Mark Shevlin, Philip Hyland, Andreas Maercker, Menachem Ben-Ezra, Peter Coventry, Susan Mason-Roberts, Aoife Bradley, Paul Hutton

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

195 Scopus citations


Background The 11th revision to the WHO International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) identified complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) as a new condition. There is a pressing need to identify effective CPTSD interventions.Methods We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of psychological interventions for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), where participants were likely to have clinically significant baseline levels of one or more CPTSD symptom clusters (affect dysregulation, negative self-concept and/or disturbed relationships). We searched MEDLINE, PsycINFO, EMBASE and PILOTS databases (January 2018), and examined study and outcome quality.Results Fifty-one RCTs met inclusion criteria. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), exposure alone (EA) and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) were superior to usual care for PTSD symptoms, with effects ranging from g = -0.90 (CBT; k = 27, 95% CI -1.11 to -0.68; moderate quality) to g = -1.26 (EMDR; k = 4, 95% CI -2.01 to -0.51; low quality). CBT and EA each had moderate-large or large effects on negative self-concept, but only one trial of EMDR provided useable data. CBT, EA and EMDR each had moderate or moderate-large effects on disturbed relationships. Few RCTs reported affect dysregulation data. The benefits of all interventions were smaller when compared with non-specific interventions (e.g. befriending). Multivariate meta-regression suggested childhood-onset trauma was associated with a poorer outcome.Conclusions The development of effective interventions for CPTSD can build upon the success of PTSD interventions. Further research should assess the benefits of flexibility in intervention selection, sequencing and delivery, based on clinical need and patient preferences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1761-1775
Number of pages15
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number11
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2019


  • Childhood trauma
  • meta-analysis
  • psychological therapies
  • randomised controlled trials
  • systematic review


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