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

    New EU Asylum Rules Could Boost Rightists

    New regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with migrant crisis, most notably inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees

    More Political Turmoil Likely in Iraq as Iran Waits in the Wings

    Analysts warn that Tehran, even though it may not be engineering the Sadrist protests in Baghdad, is seeking to leverage its influence on its neighbor

    Goodbye Ketchup, Hello Sriracha!

    How immigrants are triggering a great transformation in American cuisine

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora