The collaboration began at the end of 2021 when Phoenix Australia was approached by WHO to undertake a comprehensive evidence review, analysing data and determining the effectiveness of different treatments for PTSD.
Phoenix Australia also recently completed its own evidence review to develop the Australian Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of PTSD and Complex PTSD.
“We find the appropriate trials and then we assess the quality of the trial – was it robust so you can have confidence in its findings? Or were there substantial methodological issues so that the results aren’t as trustworthy?” says Dr Tracey Varker, Senior Research Fellow at Phoenix Australia who led the Australian evidence review.
“We combine the results of all the trials for a particular treatment, such as Prolonged Exposure treatment, analyse the data and then make a determination around how effective each treatment is.”
The depth and quality of the evidence review for the Australian PTSD guidelines initiated the request from WHO.
“Our methodology is widely accepted as gold standard and WHO knew that we’d recently updated our guidelines in Australia. WHO asked to use our evidence review to form the basis of its own guidelines on psychological treatments of PTSD for adults and children,” says Dr Varker.
The project for WHO required Dr Varker and her team to look at an additional 12 months of research trials and then write a report to explain how the information had been collated and analysed, and to provide advice on the quality of the evidence.
“In a lot of cases within the Australian guidelines, we make recommendations based on specific treatments, like Prolonged Exposure or Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) – we have a number of different categories. WHO takes a different approach and collapses these together into a few broad categories, such as trauma-focused CBT so we had to analyse and report the data in the format WHO required,” says Dr Varker.
Dr Varker and Professor Andrea Phelps, Deputy Director of Phoenix Australia, presented the key findings from evidence review report to WHO’s Guideline Development group – a panel of 20 to 30 experts located around the world. They will use the report to inform the recommendations of WHO’s PTSD treatment guidelines.
“WHO looks at accessibility, affordability and availability of treatments in different countries. When they make Guidelines they have to take into account how a treatment can be used in a wide range of countries, would there be trained practitioners in EMDR in second or third world countries, for example?” says Dr Varker.
WHO is expected to publish its new PTSD guidelines later this year.
Phoenix Australia’s expertise is also being sought by the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (‘ISTSS’). The ISTSS has its own PTSD treatment guidelines that will be updated in the next few years.
“ISTSS have approached us to use our evidence review as the basis for their guidelines, too,” says Dr Varker. “It’s been very rewarding to be involved with ISTSS and WHO and to know our research has been used to help develop guidelines that will help improve treatment and the mental health of people around the world.”
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