Treatment Guidelines

APA to establish treatment guideline panels for obesity and PTSD

Nominations invited for two new guideline groups.

By Lynn Bufka, PhD and Howard S. Kurtzman

The American Psychological Association (APA) has issued calls for nominations for scientists and clinicians to serve on two new panels for developing clinical treatment guidelines. One panel will draft a guideline for the treatment of obesity, and the other will draft a guideline for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

These will be the second and third guideline development panels to be established within APA’s treatment guideline development initiative, following establishment of a panel for depressive disorders.

The formation of the panel on obesity follows from a recommendation made in August 2011 by the steering committee for APA’s initiative.  The steering committee had identified PTSD as another possible topic for guideline development but, until now, had not made a final recommendation about whether or when APA should pursue it.

It has recently been learned that a systematic review of the literature on PTSD treatment in adults will be released in 2012 or 2013 by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  AHRQ supports the conduct and dissemination of systematic reviews for a wide range of physical and mental health conditions.  After evaluating the scope and methods of the AHRQ review, the steering committee decided that it could be used as the basis for an APA guideline. In order to take advantage of the review while it was still current, the steering committee recommended that a guideline development panel for PTSD be formed in 2012. Because it is a federal government product, the AHRQ systematic review will be in the public domain and available to APA at no cost.

Further, AHRQ is currently supporting systematic reviews on prevention of PTSD in adults and on treatment of children exposed to trauma that are also anticipated for release in 2012 or 2013.  These reviews, along with any other recent reviews that are identified, may also be referred to in drafting a guideline.  The responsibilities for determining the precise scope of the guideline and selecting which systematic reviews will underpin it will fall to the PTSD guideline development panel working in cooperation with the steering committee.

For the new obesity panel as well, it is possible that the development of a guideline can draw upon systematic reviews that have been recently published or are currently in development.  The new obesity guideline development panel will work with the steering committee to make decisions about such resources and whether APA will need to commission any new systematic reviews to address particular questions. 

For the panel examining depressive disorders, the steering committee has already recommended that APA commission an outside organization to conduct a systematic review of the relevant literature, due to the lack of up-to-date, comprehensive reviews in that area.  The committee has also begun to examine the range of organizations that could carry out this work, including the evidence-based practice centers with which AHRQ works.

For all three guideline development panels, it is expected that review of the evidence and drafting of a guideline will take up to two years.

Some APA members have expressed surprise or concern that APA is pursuing a guideline in the area of obesity. In fact, APA has adopted advancement of both mental and physical health within its strategic plan. The steering committee has noted that for much of the population, obesity is associated with disease and mortality.  It can be effectively treated through behavior change, which falls within the domain of psychologists.  As collaborations between psychologists and other healthcare professionals increase, psychologists are expected to be called upon more frequently to address obesity and other physical conditions. 

Additional information about APA’s treatment guideline development initiative can be found on the project website.  Questions and comments are invited and may be sent to APA’s Clinical Treatment Guidelines electronic mailbox.

Calls for nominations: 
See also: 


Howard Kurtzman, PhD, is deputy executive director for science (Science Directorate) and Lynn Bufka, PhD, is assistant executive director for practice research and policy (Practice Directorate) at the American Psychological Association. This article is appearing in both Psychological Science Agenda and Practice Update.