News / Health

PTSD Therapy Helps Sexually Abused Adolescent Girls

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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Troops Depart

Afghans are grappling with how exodus will affect country's fragile economy More

Video Scientists Say We Need Softer Robots

Today’s robots are mostly hard, rigid machines, with sharp edges and forceful movements, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they should be softer and therefore safer More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs