A new study had found a widely used psychological intervention dramatically reduces psychological distress experienced by child victims of war and sexual violence.
Researchers used a comprehensive and contemporary form of group-based cognitive-behavioral therapy to treat child war and sexual violence victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in central Africa. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been successfully used to treat child victims of sexual violence in the West, although this was the first attempt to adapt the intervention for use in developing countries affected by war and sexual violence.
Amazingly, researchers discovered the intervention reduced the trauma experienced by child victims of war, rape and sexual abuse by more than 50 percent.
Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast pioneered the intervention in conjunction with the international NGO World Vision.
The trial setting, Eastern Congo, has the world’s highest rate of sexual violence. Known as “the rape capital of the world,it is estimated that girls and women in the eastern DRC are 134 times more likely to be raped than their counterparts in the West.
After only 15 sessions of the new group-based Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy (TF-CBT), Queen’s researchers found reductions of:
- 72 percent in trauma symptoms in female victims of rape and sexual abuse;
- 81 percent in feelings of depression and anxiety;
- 72 percent decrease in conduct disorder;
- 64 percent decrease in anti-social behavior.
Researchers believe the knowledge gained in the multifaceted intervention can also be used to improved group-based cognitive interventions in the West. Sadly, in war-affected countries, such as the DRC, victims of rape and sexual violence often do not receive any psychological or even medical help.
In the Queen’s study, the children received sessions of trauma psychoeducation, relaxation techniques, mental imagery techniques, and tips on how to identify and change particular inaccurate or unhelpful cognitions.
The girls also drew pictures of their most traumatic events and were encouraged to talk about these events in individual sessions with Queen’s psychologists and a team of Congolese counselors.
Speaking about the implications of the results for treating child victims of war and sexual abuse worldwide, Paul O’Callaghan, from Queen’s School of Psychology, said, “It is not surprising that studies show sexual abuse to have a profoundly detrimental effect on the mental health of girls in war-affected countries, but what is surprising was just how successful the intervention was in reducing psychological distress.
“The dramatic reduction in trauma, depression and anxiety, conduct problems and anti-social behavior shows that this kind of therapy is very effective in treating war-affected children who have been exposed to rape and sexual violence. In addition to the statistical results of the therapy, many of the girls attested to how the intervention helped reduced their terrible nightmares, disturbing flashbacks and suicidal thinking,” O’Callaghan said.
“For me, that was the most rewarding part of our work in the DRC.”
The study, which took place over five weeks in 2011, also treated the psychological distress of 50 war-affected boys between the ages of 12 and 17. It was shown to dramatically reduce levels of trauma, depression and anxiety, conduct disorder and anti-social behavior in male child soldiers and street children.
Source: Queen’s University Belfast