3 years ago

An empirical review of potential mediators and mechanisms of prolonged exposure therapy

Prolonged exposure (PE) is an empirically-supported treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but the precise mechanism(s) by which PE promotes symptom change are not well established. Understanding how PE works is critical to improving clinical outcomes, advancing dissemination efforts, and enhancing transdiagnostic models of psychopathology. However, mechanisms research conducted in clinical treatment settings is complex, and findings may be difficult to interpret without appropriate context. This is the first review of potential mechanisms of PE to provide such context, by rigorously evaluating empirical findings in line with essential criteria for effective research on mechanisms (or mediators). We begin by describing six putative mechanisms identified by emotional processing theory and contemporary models of fear extinction, before thoroughly reviewing empirical findings from clinical research on PE and similar PTSD treatments. We provide a detailed description of each study and mechanism test, as well as ratings of strength of evidence and quality of evaluation based on a novel rating scheme. We highlight variables with strong evidence (belief change and between-session habituation), intermediate evidence (inhibitory learning and emotional engagement), and minimal support (narrative organization and within-session habituation). After discussing limitations of the extant literature and this review, we summarize specific challenges for research on PE mechanisms and highlight directions for future study based on clinical and research implications.

Publisher URL: www.sciencedirect.com/science

DOI: S0272735816302884

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