Background: Single-session psychological interventions such as psychological debriefing have become widely used following traumatic events. The evidence for their effectiveness has been widely debated. This review aimed to consider the evidence for the effectiveness of one-off early interventions within 1 month of a traumatic event. Methods: A systematic review using the standard Cochrane Collaboration methodology. Literature searches of various databases were performed to identify randomised controlled trials. The methodological quality of the studies identified was determined using standard measures, and the results were pooled to consider the overall evidence for effectiveness. Results: Eleven randomised controlled trials were found, all of individual or couple interventions. Three studies associated the intervention with a positive outcome, 6 demonstrated no difference in outcome between intervention and non-intervention groups and 2 showed some negative outcomes in the intervention group (these studies had the longest follow-up periods). The methodological quality of the studies varied widely, but was generally poor. This review suggests that early optimism for brief early psychological interventions including debriefing was misplaced and that it should not be advocated for routine use. There remains an urgent need for randomised controlled trials of group debriefing and other early interventions.
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