International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

There Has to be a Better Way! Hints to Streamline and Manage Staying on Top of the Trauma Literature

Posted 1 July 2008 in StressPoints by Joanna Legerski, MA

If you are like us, when your copy of the Journal of Traumatic Stress (JTS) comes in the mail, you skim a few titles and make note to read the articles later. Then you throw it on the shelf, where it sits waiting for the “right” moment to be read. Yet, somehow the elusive “right” moment never seems to come. Months later, you look at the bookshelf and wonder how the stack of unread journals got so high. Staying up to date on the literature can seem like a mammoth task for our over packed schedules. Heidi and I figured that there has to be a better way to stay current with the literature. In a quest to find a simpler way to manage this task, we culled hints and ideas from several colleagues.

The first idea suggested to us was to take advantage of publications that summarize current literature. The PTSD Research Quarterly (RQ) and The Clinician’s Trauma Update (CTU-Online) are two such products published by the National Center for PTSD (NCPTSD).

RQ was the first newsletter put out by the NCPTSD and has been produced since January 1990. Each issue of RQ has a different guest editor and focuses on one specific topic within the field of trauma. The guest editor writes a multi-page primer in their area of specialty for the issue of RQ and then provides an annotated bibliography of key articles related to the topic at hand. For example, the Winter 2008 RQ newsletter entitled, “The epidemiology of trauma and trauma-related disorders in children and youth,” was edited by John Fairbank of UCLA-Duke University and National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Within this issue Dr. Fairbank provided an overview of the epidemiological approach to understanding the impact of trauma in child and adolescent populations. Also included in this issue of RQ were bibliographic abstracts and annotated citations providing critical descriptive sources of child trauma research.

CTU-Online is a new publication that first appeared in February 2007. The aim of CTU-Online is to provide a clean and concise overview of clinically-relevant articles relevant to traumatic stress studies. Paula Schnurr, editor of CTU-Online, explained that the CTU-Online writers and editors sift through articles published within the last two months and pick those that seem most relevant to the diagnostic, assessment, and treatment issues faced by clinicians working with trauma-exposed populations.

In order to capture the attention of the CTU-Online reader intriguing titles are created. A few that recently enticed us to read the full summary include:

Alexithymia is related to poor health in sexually traumatized female veterans (CTU-Online, 2, (2), April, 2008)
Do we go far enough in detecting and treating PTSD in depressed primary patients? (CTU-Online, 1, (4), Aug, 2007)
Patient treatment preference influences the development of therapeutic alliance (CTU-Online, 1, (2), April 2007)
The 4-item PTSD screen works well for PTSD in veterans with substance abuse problems (CTU-Online, 1, (10), Feb. 2007)
Study fails to find benefit of anticonvulsant treatment for PTSD (CTU-Online, 2, (2), April, 2008)

The information presented in both RQ and CTU-Online are written in “plain language that presents the information in a clean and straightforward style,” explained Dr. Schnurr. She noted that while this can be challenging, simple, non-scientific writing makes the information easier to digest and review quickly. In addition, the content of both newsletters is written with an emphasis on the relevance and impact of the selected articles and topics for professionals working in trauma-related fields. The editors explain why an article is important and how it can help the clinician and/or the client.

Another way to stay current on the literature is to sign up to receive the table of contents of a few favorite key publications. Many journals, including JTS, offer this service to alert readers when a new issue comes out.

With all of the completing demands in our lives, it can be difficult to stay on top of the trauma literature. Some of the above tips may help streamline this process. We plan to use these hints ourselves, so we can stop worrying about when the “right moment” will finally appear.