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MDMA-assisted psychotherapy with adolescents suffering from PTSD: Do or don’t? a qualitative study with youth, parents, and clinicians

Woman crying on Couch


Anoek S Van Vugt, Josjan Zijlmans, Ramon Lindauer and Levi Van Dam


September 1, 2023


PTSD in adolescence causes much suffering and has substantial health-care costs. Many patients with severe PTSD do not respond to psychotherapy or continue to have symptoms despite trauma-focused psychotherapies and psychopharmacological treatment. A recent alternative in the search for cost-effective treatments for PTSD in adults is 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine-assisted psychotherapy (MDMA-assisted psychotherapy). However, no research has yet been conducted on the therapeutic potential of MDMA for adolescents.

Aims of the study

The purpose of this study is to investigate the perspectives of adolescents, parents, and clinicians about the possible clinical application of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for adolescents with PTSD.


We performed focus groups in three samples: (a) 16–24-year-olds who had undergone trauma therapy (N  =  9), (b) parents of traumatized children (N  =  4), and (c) trauma clinicians (N  =  6). Focus group topics included: perception of and associations with MDMA, opinions on MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, risks/benefits, and precautions to take prior to possible adolescent clinical trials with MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.


In all groups, initial participant attitudes towards MDMA were predominantly unfavorable, except for several adolescents who had conducted preliminary research on the subject. After a standardized explanation of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy, provided in each group, all but one participant changed their minds and supported the idea of implementing MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for adolescents. They all emphasized the importance of conducting research first.


Our findings suggest that when provided with information on what MDMA-assisted psychotherapy entails, adolescents, parents, and clinicians are open to the idea of exploring this type of treatment for adolescents.

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