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Rape Survivors in War Zones May Benefit Most From Group Counseling

Study looked at therapy for women in the Democratic Republic of Congo

WEDNESDAY, June 5 (HealthDay News) -- Group counseling is more effective than individual therapy in reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety among victims of sexual violence in war zones, a new study shows.

"Survivors of sexual violence have high rates of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress symptoms. We know what works for treating these victims in developed countries, but very little has been done to determine what treatments can help women in war-torn, resource-poor settings," lead author Judith Bass, an assistant professor in the department of mental health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, said in a school news release.

She and her team conducted their study in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where conflict has raged for more than 20 years. A recent study showed that two of every five women in this area had been victims of rape.

The sexual violence survivors in the study were screened for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety, and offered either individual support or cognitive processing therapy, which included one individual session and 11 group sessions.

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety were reduced among all the women in the study, but the reduction was much greater among those who received cognitive processing therapy. Six months after treatment, only 9 percent of women who received that therapy met criteria for probable post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or anxiety, compared with 42 percent of those who received individual support.

"We saw women, who had once felt too stigmatized to be a part of their community, re-engage after receiving [cognitive processing therapy] and they expressed that they felt they could again be productive members of their families and communities," Bass said.

The study was published in the June 6 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about sexual violence.

SOURCE: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, news release, June 5, 2013

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