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INTRODUCTION: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is associated with significant patient burden. While pharmacotherapies and evidence-based psychotherapy interventions (EBPI) are effective, studies consistently highlight inadequate outcomes and high treatment dropout. Psychedelic therapy (PT) has shown preliminary promise across difficult-to-treat conditions, including MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD, however trials of classical psychedelics in PTSD are lacking. Understanding patients' experiences of EBPI could help promote safety in PT. AIM: To systematically review qualitative research on patients' subjective experience of EBPI for PTSD, and of PT, and examine areas of overlap and divergence between them. METHODS: Systematic literature searches for studies published between 2010 and 2023 were conducted on OVID, PubMed, Web of Science, and PsycInfo. Included were original studies in English that presented qualitative data of patient experiences of EBPI in PTSD, or PT for any indication. Extracted data from included studies were analysed using thematic synthesis. Syntheses were completed separately for EBPI and PT, before similarities and differences between the therapies were identified. RESULTS: 40 research articles were included for review: 26 studies on EBPI for PTSD, and 14 studies on PT. EBPI studied were CBT, EMDR, CPT and PE. Psychedelic compounds studied were psilocybin, ibogaine, LSD, MDMA and ketamine, for treatment of substance use disorders, anxiety relating to physical illness, depression, and PTSD. Core themes from patient experiences of EBPI: 1) patient burden in PTSD treatment; 2) readiness; 3) key mechanisms of change; 4) psychological safety and trust. Themes identified in the review of PT: 1) indirect trauma processing; 2) reorganisation of self-narratives via processes of relatedness and identification; 3) key treatment characteristics. CONCLUSION: This study suggests overlap between patients' experience of EBPI and PT in terms of key mechanisms of change, the importance of psychological safety and readiness to engage in treatment. Trauma-informed care paradigms and practices may improve safety and acceptability of PT research.

Original publication




Journal article


Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat

Publication Date





109 - 135


PTSD, psychedelic therapy, psychotherapy, qualitative, review, trauma