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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