Pre-treatment pain predicts outcomes in multimodal treatment for tortured and traumatized refugees: A pilot investigation
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Background: Chronic pain is a common comorbid complaint in traumatized refugees seeking treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. However, the effect of comorbid pain on treatment remains under investigated. Objective: To investigate whether pre-treatment pain (severity/interference) predicts outcomes in a multimodal treatment targeting PTSD, depression, anxiety, somatic complaints, and health-related disability in refugees exposed to torture and organized violence. Additional predictors were gender, age, and number of treatment sessions. Method: Participants were active cases at a specialist outpatient clinic for tortured refugees (n = 276; 170 men, 106 women) who were either on a treatment waitlist (mean length = 7.4 months, SD = 4.5), in treatment (mean length = 12.2 months, SD = 6.5), or who completed treatment and had (or were waiting for) a follow-up assessment. Participants completed symptom measures at referral, pre- and post-treatment, and 9-month follow-up. Multi-level mixed modelling was used to assess whether outcomes at post-treatment and 9-months were predicted by pain, gender, age, or the number of treatment sessions. Results: Treatment yielded significant pre-to-post-treatment reductions in PTSD, depression, anxiety, and number of pain locations, but no reductions in pain severity/interference, or health-related disability, except for societal participation. Gains for PTSD, depression, and societal participation were maintained at the 9-month follow-up. Higher levels of pain interference (but not severity) predicted poorer outcomes (PTSD, depression, and anxiety). Age, gender and number of treatment sessions did not predict outcomes, except for a small negative effect of (older) age on PTSD. Conclusions: A growing body of literature suggests that pain and PTSD symptoms interact in ways to increase the severity and impact of both disorders in refugee and non-refugee populations alike. The present study suggests interference from pain can lessen the effectiveness of standard multi-modal treatments for refugees.