A new study at Howard University, Washington, DC, has discovered that having a purpose in life may protect against the potential psychological effects of trauma and be helpful to recovery for those who do develop a trauma-related psychiatric condition. Principal investigator, Tanya N. Alim, MD, said the findings show a significant relationship between purpose in life prior to trauma and resilience. Analysis suggests a connection between a the development of a purpose in life and recovery from psychiatric disorder related to trauma or absence of development of a trauma-related mental health condition.
Study participants were 259 African-Americans who had experienced at least one major traumatic incident in their lives. The study was conducted in order to address the lack of evidence for effective treatment of trauma-related psychiatric disorders. Findings were published this month in the American Journal of Psychiatry online.
Study participants were interviewed and categorized into three sub-sections:
- 47 individuals fell into the resilient sub-groups
- 85 were identified as having recovered from a DSM-IV diagnosis
- 127 people were diagnosed with a current condition
All study participants were recruited from Howard’s medical services. Investigators looked at trauma-related emotional intelligence and individual’s coping strategies, as well as purpose in life.
The resilient sub-group had experienced significantly less trauma in their lifetimes. Women predominated the current-diagnosis subgroup, as compared to the other sub-groups. A sense of control, as well as purpose in life, was also found to be significantly related to recovery when the recovered and current-diagnosis sub-groups were compared. More frequent participation in formal religious services was found in the resilient sub-group.
Trauma can result in several different psychiatric conditions, including depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), various anxiety disorders, borderline personality disorder, and alcoholism. Study participants who reported a psychiatric disorder had been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. PTSD was reported most frequently. PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder. Just nine percent (9%) of the current-diagnosis group had received mental health treatment.
Decisions concerning implications of this study for prevention and treatment of trauma-related psychiatric conditions may be premature at this point. It’s hoped by the investigators that further research will further identify psychosocial factors that are most often linked to resilience and how to effectively integrate these into treatment and prevention efforts. The study’s results await further investigation into the role of discrimination and privilege in an individual’s life as it relates to trauma acquisition and recovery.
© Copyright 2008 by Jolyn Wells-Moran, PhD, MSW, therapist in Seattle, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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