A brief workplace intervention for anxiety sensitivity: Aiming to reduce risk for posttraumatic stress disorder in First Responders

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University of New Brunswick


First responders (e.g., paramedics, firefighters) are repeatedly exposed to traumatic situations in the course of their work, increasing their vulnerability for developing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD; Haugen et al., 2012). Although research has established the efficacy of psychotherapy for PTSD (Bradley, et al., 2005), less research has focused on risk reduction approaches. Because trauma exposure is often unavoidable for first responders, efforts to reduce risk of PTSD could focus on individual factors that increase risk for developing PTSD. Although many of these factors are immutable (e.g., gender, age, family history of mental illness), others, such as high anxiety sensitivity (AS), can theoretically be targeted and fortified through preventive interventions. The current study investigated the efficacy of a brief cognitive behavioural therapy for AS intervention vs. a waitlist control in reducing AS one week and eight months later, and subsequently mitigating the development of PTSD and related mental health symptoms eight months later. Participants were 170 first responders from the Atlantic provinces who were randomly assigned to either the intervention or waitlist control group. Participants completed a self-report questionnaire pre-intervention, one-week post-intervention, and 8 months later. Hierarchical linear regression (with both completer and intention-to-treat samples) revealed no group differences in AS at one-week nor PTSD at the eight-month follow-up. Results and recommendations specific to interventions involving first responders are discussed in detail.