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Trauma-focused treatments for depression. A systematic review and meta-analysis

Martinuzzi, A., Dominguez, S.K., Matthijssen, S.J.M.A. and Lee, C.W. (2021) Trauma-focused treatments for depression. A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS ONE, 16 (7). Art. e0254778.

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Trauma-focused treatments (TFTs) have demonstrated efficacy at decreasing depressive symptoms in individuals with PTSD. This systematic review and meta-analysis evaluated the effectiveness of TFTs for individuals with depression as their primary concern.


A systematic search was conducted for RCTs published before October 2019 in Cochrane CENTRAL, Pubmed, EMBASE, PsycInfo, and additional sources. Trials examining the impact of TFTs on participants with depression were included. Trials focusing on individuals with PTSD or another mental health condition were excluded. The primary outcome was the effect size for depression diagnosis or depressive symptoms. Heterogeneity, study quality, and publication bias were also explored.


Eleven RCTs were included (n = 567) with ten of these using EMDR as the TFT and one using imagery rescripting. Analysis suggested these TFTs were effective in reducing depressive symptoms post-treatment with a large effect size [d = 1.17 (95% CI: 0.58~ 1.75)]. Removal of an outlier saw the effect size remain large [d = 0.83 (95% CI: 0.48~ 1.17)], while the heterogeneity decreased (I2 = 66%). Analysis of the 10 studies that used EMDR also showed a large effect [d = 1.30 (95% CI: 0.67~1.91)]. EMDR was superior to non trauma-focused CBT [d = 0.66 (95% CI: 0.31~1.02)] and analysis of EMDR and imagery rescripting studies suggest superiority over inactive control conditions [d = 1.19 (95% CI: 0.53~ 1.86)]. Analysis of follow-up data also supported the use of EMDR with this population [d = 0.71 (95% CI: 1.04~0.38)]. No publication bias was identified.


Current evidence suggests that EMDR can be an effective treatment for depression. There were insufficient RCTs on other trauma-focused interventions to conclude whether TFTs in general were effective for treating depression. Larger studies with robust methodology using EMDR and other trauma-focused interventions are needed to build on these findings.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Psychology, Counselling, Exercise Science and Chiropractic
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Copyright: © 2021 The Authors.
United Nations SDGs: Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being
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