Written by Alexis Mitchell UNCC’ 18
Approximately 50% of all individuals will be exposed to one traumatic event in their lifetime. Notably, 8% of trauma survivors will develop Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Research indicates that women are twice as likely to develop PTSD, experience a longer duration of posttraumatic symptoms, and display more sensitivity to stimuli that remind them of the trauma (Facts about Women and Trauma).
There are several treatment interventions for patients with PTSD. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, specifically prolonged exposure therapy, is one of these interventions. In prolonged exposure, a patient is asked to vividly recount a traumatic event repeatedly until the patient’s emotional response decreases. Patients are also encouraged to confront environmental cues that remind them of their trauma. In sum, exposure aims to improve emotional processing of traumatic events by helping patients face traumatic memories and situations associated with such memories.
Schnurr et al. (2007) conducted a study on prolonged exposure, in which 284 female, active duty military personnel and veterans participated. Participants were assigned to participate in either prolonged exposure or present-centered therapy. Present-centered therapy includes psycho-education regarding the impact of individual’s trauma, teaching the use of problem solving strategies, and altering present maladaptive behaviors. The objective was to compare these two methods of intervention. Participants had been exposed to 10 types of trauma in their lifetime, with the most common being sexual trauma.
The study found prolonged exposure to be more effective than present-centered therapy for treating PTSD in the female veterans and active duty personnel participants. At posttreatment, loss of diagnosis and total remission were more likely with prolonged exposure than with present-centered therapy. Prolonged exposure also created a greater likelihood of a decrease in anxiety and improvement of quality of life.
The high prevalence of sexual trauma among the participants is noteworthy, and although this study only included women, it can be generalized to men as well. The challenge now is for large health systems, such as the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, to find efficient ways to train personnel to promote utilization of prolonged exposure therapy and its effectiveness.