Therapists use a variety of approaches to solicit information from clients. Different forms of therapy provide different strategies to help clients express emotions and feelings from past experiences. Adults who survived childhood abuse (CA), including childhood sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, may find it difficult to express their feelings related to past abuses. But identifying these emotions and how they relate to current symptoms is essential for therapists. Understanding how their past traumas manifest in the present helps therapists assess current behaviors and diagnose present psychological conditions. Many adult survivors experience anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress, and other mental health problems as a result of abuse, while others have symptoms of psychosis including hallucinations and delusions (HD) and even dissociation.
It is the latter set of symptoms that interested Marian Reiff of the Department of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University. Reiff wanted to determine how symptom content varied in survivors of abuse compared to nonabused clients. Additionally, Reiff examined how content of current HDs differed from previous the circumstances surrounding the childhood abuse. Reiff enlisted 30 individuals and assessed them for CA using a questionnaire that was designed to be open-ended. She asked the participants about specific details of their HDs, past CA, and psychotic symptoms.
Reiff used a “trauma-relevant content score” to measure differences in each group of participants and found that the abuse survivors had much higher trauma-related content in all their responses. This finding suggests that symptoms of trauma may be more evident in individuals currently experiencing HDs and psychosis with a history of CA than in those without. Reiff said, “Identification of trauma-relevant characteristics in symptom content can provide clinicians with an effective means of recognizing trauma-related illness.” Many abuse survivors are hesitant to divulge the details of their abuse because in the past, they may have been shunned by caregivers that didn’t believe their allegations. Reiff believes that when therapists actively listen to clients’ narratives, they provide an environment of acceptance and trust that will encourage disclosure. Therapists will then have a better opportunity to identify any existing links between prior abuse, current symptomology, and psychosis in ways that were not possible through other methods of treatment.
Reiff, M., Castille, D. M., Muenzenmaier, K., Link, B. (2012). Childhood abuse and the content of adult psychotic symptoms. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy 4.4: 356-369.
© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.