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Adolescent Victims of Sexual Abuse Better Helped by Prolonged Exposure Therapy than Counseling

Dec 28, 2013 05:02 PM EST

Adolescent victims of sexual abuse may be better helped by a modified form of prolonged exposure therapy than supportive counseling when it comes to treating PTSD, a new report in the Journal of American Medical Association found.

Prolonged exposure therapy (PE) requires a patient to revisit and recount aloud their trauma-related thoughts and feelings, and is the most established evidence-based treatment with adults for PTSD, according to Edna Foa, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and PE's developer. However, she notes, the fear that the technique could exacerbate symptoms in adolescent patients who have not yet developed the needed coping skills has prevented it from being established among this population.

In the new, six-year study, counselors used a version of PE, called PE-A, that was specifically tailored for adolescents to treat 31 girls between 13-18 years old suffering from sexual abuse-related PTSD while another 30 received supportive counseling. In both cases, a total of 14 sessions lasting between 60-90 minutes were offered. Those counselors administering the new method underwent four days of training as well as supervision every second week.

Even as treatment was underway, patients undergoing PE-A demonstrated a greater decline in the severity of PTSD and depression symptoms and an increase in overall functioning - differences that were seen throughout the following 12-month follow-up period.

"Another key finding of this research was that prolonged therapy can be administered in a community setting by professionals with no prior training in evidence-based treatments and can have a positive impact on this population," Foa said.

According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, an estimated 20 percent of women and 5-10 percent of men report having been sexually abused or assaulted as a child. Some 28 percent of adolescents between 14-17 years old have been sexually victimized during their lifetime.

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