Predicting post-traumatic stress disorder treatment response in refugees: Multilevel analysis

Author(s): Joris F.G. HAAGEN ; F. Jackie June TER HEIDE ; Trudy M. MOOREN ; Jeroen W. KNIPSCHEER ; Rolf J. KLEBER



Given the recent peak in refugee numbers and refugees’ high odds of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), finding ways to alleviate PTSD in refugees is of vital importance. However, there are major differences in PTSD treatment response between refugees, the determinants of which are largely unknown. This study aimed at improving PTSD treatment for adult refugees by identifying PTSD treatment response predictors.


A prospective longitudinal multilevel modelling design was used to predict PTSD severity scores over time. We analysed data from a randomized controlled trial with pre-, post-, and follow-up measurements of the safety and efficacy of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing and stabilization in asylum seekers and refugees suffering from PTSD.


Lack of refugee status, comorbid depression, demographic, trauma-related and treatment-related variables were analysed as potential predictors of PTSD treatment outcome. Treatment outcome data from 72 participants were used.


The presence (= 6.5, = .03) and severity (= 6.3, < .01) of a pre-treatment depressive disorder predicted poor treatment response and explained 39% of the variance between individuals.


Refugee patients who suffer from PTSD and severe comorbid depression benefit less from treatment aimed at alleviating PTSD. Results highlight the need for treatment adaptations for PTSD and comorbid severe depression in traumatized refugees, including testing whether initial targeting of severe depressive symptoms increases PTSD treatment effectiveness.

Practitioner points

  • There are differences in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatment response between traumatized refugees.
  • Comorbid depressive disorder and depression severity predict poor PTSD response.
  • Refugees with PTSD and severe depression may not benefit from PTSD treatment.
  • Targeting comorbid severe depression before PTSD treatment is warranted.
  • This study did not correct for multiple hypothesis testing.
  • Comorbid depression may differentially impact alternative PTSD treatments.

Tags: Asylum seekers, Refugees, Adults, Depression, PTSD, Trauma, Psychotherapy, Netherlands

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