News / Health

PTSD Therapy Helps Sexually Abused Adolescent Girls

TEXT SIZE - +
Jessica Berman
So-called “prolonged exposure therapy” is considered the foundation of treatment for soldiers returning from battle with post-traumatic stress disorder. But its effectiveness had never been tried in another group of patients suffering from trauma - adolescent girls who were sexually abused. Now a new study of the therapy finds it’s better than supportive counseling in helping these young people.

In prolonged exposure therapy - or PET - patients repeatedly revisit and recount aloud the feelings and thoughts that are haunting them until these emotional memories no longer prompt a response. The desensitizing approach is commonly used to treat veterans who are traumatized by their wartime experiences.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, however, is not limited to soldiers. Its symptoms also are seen in adolescent girls following child sexual abuse or rape. Edna Foa, a clinical psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, said these young women usually receive supportive counseling, which only tends to help sexual abuse victims in the immediate term.

“It kind of reduces the pain in the short run; but in the long run, it actually maintains the symptoms and actually generates chronic post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Foa.

She said teenage girls receiving supportive counseling tend to avoid situations that remind them of their abuse; but Foa, who developed prolonged exposure therapy for PTSD, believes that method can offer the girls a more lasting cure, because it gives them the necessary coping skills to face memories of their assaults.

Foa and her colleagues tailored the PET program to fit the emotional maturity level of adolescents, and compared it to supportive counseling in a group of five dozen sexually abused girls, ages 13 to 18, who suffered from PTSD.

Over a six-year period, each teen received 14 sessions of either the modified PET or supportive counseling. The sessions were about 60 to 90 minutes in length.

During treatment, Foa said adolescents who received prolonged exposure therapy saw a greater decline in PTSD symptoms, depression and a greater improvement in overall functioning compared to those in the supportive care group.

“Most of the girls who received prolonged exposure actually lost the diagnosis of PTSD and really did very well even a year after, because we followed them for up to a year after the treatment.”

Foa said counselors in community mental health centers, where most young sexual abuse victims are seen, can be trained in prolonged exposure therapy in as little as four days.

An article on the therapy’s benefits in female adolescents traumatized by sex abuse is published in The Journal of the American Medical Association. An editorial that accompanied the report noted that many therapists are reluctant to try the treatment with children because of concerns that it might worsen symptoms, but that the study should raise awareness of the benefits.

You May Like

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid