Prolonged Exposure Therapy Helps Sexually Abused Adolescent Girls

    31 December, 2013


    From VOA Learning English, this is the Health Report.

    Mental health experts often use a treatment called "prolonged exposure therapy" to help soldiers returning from battle, it is considered the first step in treating soldiers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD). Now, researchers have found the treatment can also help adolescent girls who were sexually abused as children.

    In prolonged exposure therapy - or PET - patients are asked to remember and then talk about the feelings and thoughts that cause them to suffer. They do this until these memories are no longer painful. The desensitizing method can provide help to soldiers who developed emotional problems because of a wartime experiences.

    Post-traumatic stress disorder is not limited to military veterans. It is also seen in young women who were sexually abused or raped when they were children.

    Edna Foa is a clinical psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, she helped to develop prolonged exposure therapy for PTSD. She says young women who were abused at an earlier age often get what she calls supportive counseling, but she says that kind of treatment usually helps them for only a short period of time.

    "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.

    Doctor Foa says teenages who receive supportive counseling may avoid situations that bring back memories of their abuse. She believes PET can offer the abused girls a cure that lasts longer. She says it gives them the skills they need to face the memories of their abuse.

    Doctor Foa and her team are mended the PET program to meet the emotional maturity level of young people, then they compared it to supportive counseling in a group of sixty sexually abused girls. All the girls suffered from PTSD and was 13 to 18 years of age. Each girl got 14 sessions of either PET or supportive counseling. Each meeting lasted about 60 to 90 minutes.

    Doctor Foa says, during treatment, those who received PET had a larger decrease in PTSD symptoms and depression, compared to the other girls. They also had a greater improvement in the quality of life.

    "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," said Foa.

    Doc Foa says social workers in community mental health centers can be trained in prolonged exposure therapy in just four days.

    And that's the VOA Learning English Health Report. I'm Christopher Cruise.