INTRODUCTION: The aim of this systematic review and meta-analysis is to evaluate the efficacy of narrative-based interventions (NBIs) for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Investigating the efficacy of NBIs should yield insight on autobiographical memory (AM) phenomena implicated in PTSD onset and recovery, leading to improved intervention protocols. Furthermore, by analyzing how NBIs influence maladaptive AM distortions, we hope to shed light on the theorized narrative architecture of AM more generally.
METHODS: A systematic literature search was conducted according to PRISMA and Cochrane guidelines in MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsychINFO, and PubMed. Additional studies were then also identified from the reference lists of other relevant literature and considered for inclusion. Studies were then evaluated for adherence to the inclusion/exclusion criteria and assessed for risk of bias. Various meta-analyses were performed on included studies to understand how NBIs may or may not influence the overall effect size of treatment.
RESULTS: The results of the meta-analysis of 35 studies, involving 2,596 participants, suggest that NBIs are a viable and effective treatment option for PTSD, yielding a statistically significant within-group effect size and decrease in PTSD symptomatology at both post-treatment [ g = 1.73, 95% CI (1.23-2.22)] and 3-9 month follow-up assessments [ g = 2.33, 95% CI (1.41-3.26)]. Furthermore, the difference in effect sizes between NBIs compared to active and waitlist controls was statistically significant, suggesting that NBIs are superior. Sub-analyses showed that NET provided a stronger effect size than FORNET, which may be due to the nature of the traumatic event itself and not the treatment protocol. While evidence of small study and publication bias was present, a weight-function model and trim-and-fill method suggested it was not influencing the overall results.
DISCUSSION: This meta-analysis presents strong evidence supporting the use of NBIs in the treatment of PTSD. Clear similarities can be identified between NBIs included in this analysis that make them distinct from non-NBI interventions, which are reviewed in the discussion. Controlled comparisons between NBIs and non-NBIs would help to further understand AM mechanisms of action implicated in recovery and how various interventions facilitate them. Future research should also aim to elucidate the full range of AM impairment in individuals with PTSD to gain insight on how other memory capabilities, such as the ability to mentally simulate the future, are implicated in the pathogenesis of PTSD.