Rape Victims Who Avoid Coping Benefit from EMDR

Nearly one in 12 women who suffer with posttraumatic stress do so as a result of being raped. Although many therapies have been shown to help reduce the symptoms of rape-related PTSD, including eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and prolonged exposure (PE), a small number of these women still do not see significant relief. Recently, researchers have looked at the coping techniques these women use as a method of predicting treatment response. Specifically, women with rape-related PTSD tend to engage in avoidant or approach coping behaviors. But research has shown that avoidant coping strategies are most likely to impede treatment outcome. “In fact, cognitive-behavioral theories of PTSD and its treatment posit that recovery is associated with decreases in trauma-related avoidance,” said Amy S. Leiner of the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Georgia. Because of this, Leiner and her colleagues conducted a study to determine if women who use avoidant coping behaviors would benefit more from EMDR and PE than women who used approach coping strategies.

Participants were 62 women who were evaluated for coping strategies in rape-related PTSD using the PTSD Symptom Scale–Self Report. After the women underwent nine sessions of either EMDR or PE, the researchers found that the women who relied on avoidant coping before the treatment saw the most significant decreases in symptoms after the treatment. Additionally, the women who had rarely used avoidant coping prior to treatment and had relied on approach coping saw far fewer therapeutic gains as a result of the EMDR or PE. Leiner said, “A greater understanding of the association between avoidant coping and PTSD treatment may stimulate the modification of existing treatments or the development of new interventions.” She added, “As a result, clinicians may be better able to match individual trauma survivors with particular interventions and to reduce suffering associated with trauma exposure.”

Leiner, A. S., Kearns, M. C., Jackson, J. L., Astin, M. C., & Rothbaum, B. O. (2012, January 9). Avoidant Coping and Treatment Outcome in Rape-Related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026814

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  • Raya


    January 18th, 2012 at 4:03 PM

    It is good to know that at least there is somehting that could help rape victims. While certain therapies are going to help some victims, there has to be multiple efforts to try just in case something is not working in relieving those symptoms of ptsd they could be feeling. Rape is something terrible that happens to too many women for there not to be something effective to use in treating their pain.

  • samantha


    January 18th, 2012 at 11:16 PM

    rape can really affect a woman mentally and make her feel vulnerable.and the impact of this event is huge psychologically,there’s no denying that.so maybe a few women tend to close themselves up mentally to try and ‘protect’ themselves,maybe that’s the reason they don’t make an equal gain from treatment,because they do not embrace it with an open mind?

  • Natalie


    January 19th, 2012 at 7:08 AM

    Rape victims need treatment before treatment-a sort of first aid. They need to be given help to come out of their shell that often develops after the incident. Once that happens only then can the real treatment start and only then will it bear fruit. Forcing even treatment could be detrimental rather than helpful!

  • Grady


    January 19th, 2012 at 1:39 PM

    This is serious. If they can’t face what happened to them then how are they ever going to be able to move on with life? The same is true with anything. Just because you try to bury it and avoid it it is not going to amke it go away. The wound is still there and it has to be given some air to breathe and to heal.

  • susan


    January 19th, 2012 at 10:39 PM

    it’s sad not just because of what happened but also due to the after effect mentally.if it can make a person receptive to help then you can imagine what kind of an impact it has.but it’s nice to see therapies and techniques that could ell individuals in such a situation.this needs encouragement.

  • Lea


    January 20th, 2012 at 11:50 PM

    So it helps one group more than another? Hmm…no too bad considering the fact that avoidant coping sounds more dangerous and feels like the victim is just hiding herself from even help.

  • beatrice


    January 22nd, 2012 at 12:57 PM

    I must start by saying the fortunately I have never been a victim of rape.
    But I think that if this is something that life intends for me, I am going to be one of those ticked off women who roars with rage, never burying my feelings deep down inside.
    I do not mean at all to harm anyone who has ever had to experience this. It must be horriffic.
    However you have to wonder of any of these women ever think about how loudly they could be heard if they would all rise up together and speak of the harm that rape causes to women everywhere.
    It is scary and daunting, but being silent can no longer be an option.

  • Megan


    September 13th, 2015 at 11:05 AM

    @beatrice, you might be one of the one who world roar with rage, and that would be great. However, some women like me were raped as children. As children we didn’t even have a chance to comprehend what happened to us. I grew up in a family who didn’t discuss feelings. After I told and he was sent to jail we didn’t talk about it again. I would try to bring it up and ask questions, but I was always told “you told and that’s all that matters.” I never had the chance to talk about it. I developed an eating disorder to cope with my feelings. After starting therapy in my 20s and getting a chance to talk about it I feel much more confident. Now I have the confidence to rise up and work in politics and help other rape survivors. Sometimes we need that therapy before we can roar.

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