A UCLA-led study of HIV-positive women who were sexually abused as children has found that the more severe their past trauma, the greater their improvement in an intervention program designed to ease their psychological suffering.
The study, conducted by researchers at UCLA's Collaborative Center for Culture, Trauma and Mental Health Disparities, suggests that such interventions should be tailored to individuals' experience and that a "one size fits all" approach may not be enough to successfully reduce women's depression, post-traumatic stress and anxiety symptoms.
"This study shows that those who suffer early and severe trauma can improve their psychological symptoms," said primary investigator Dorothy Chin, an associate research psychologist at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA. "Indeed, those who improve the most are those who suffered the most trauma."
The research findings are published in the peer-reviewed journal Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice and Policy.
For the study, researchers used data on women who had participated in the Healing Our Women program, a clinical trial testing an HIV/trauma intervention for HIV-positive women who had suffered sexual abuse as children. Previous research demonstrated that this program was successful at reducing psychological distress among these women. The question for the current study was: Who benefited the most?
The trial used a psycho-educational group intervention called the enhanced sexual health intervention (ESHI), which linked these women's early sexual abuse-related trauma to their current sexual risk behavior and taught them ways of coping and emotional problem-solving.
The 121 women who participated in the trial were recruited from community-based organizations, health clinics, physicians' offices, hospitals and HIV support groups in the Los Angeles area. The researchers randomly assigned 51 of them to the ESHI group, an 11-week intervention that included writing exercises, group processing, strategies for identifying and coping with potentially risky or stressful situations, and problem-solving.