Help for Women Traumatized by Childhood Abuse

Though we often associate posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with male combat soldiers, the disorder affects nearly twice as many women as men. PTSD occurs at an exceptionally high rate — 26 to 52 percent –in women who experienced physical or sexual abuse during their childhoods. Little research has been devoted to developing a treatment regimen for this specific subset of PTSD patients–until now. A new study found that emotional skills training followed by exposure therapy improved PTSD symptoms for women suffering from PTSD better than other therapeutic methods.

The researchers recruited 104 women with child abuse-related PTSD to participate in the study. The subjects were divided into three groups. One group of 33 women received skills training followed by exposure therapy. A second group comprised of 38 women enrolled in skills training followed by support therapy. Meanwhile, a third group of 33 women received support therapy followed by exposure therapy.

Each treatment consisted of 16 weekly therapy sessions. The emotional skill sessions focused on teaching the women social coping and emotional regulation skills. Whereas the exposure therapy sessions focused on helping the women confront their traumatic childhood memories, and remembering them rather then avoiding the memories. The researchers measured the success of each therapy type with the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale immediately following treatment, three months after treatment, and again six months after treatment.

The results showed that following emotional skills training with exposure therapy achieved the highest rate of long-term remission of PTSD symptoms. Twenty-seven percent of the patients from this group no longer met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD six months after the treatment, compared to 13 percent of the skills training/support therapy group and none of the support therapy/exposure therapy group.

One reason for such a low remission rate in the support/exposure group may have been that 39 percent of the subjects in that group dropped out of the study, which is consistent with previous studies on exposure therapy. Researchers speculate that facing traumatic memories is too difficult for many patients. The low dropout rate of 15 percent in the skills/exposure group seems to indicate that teaching the patients coping and emotional regulation skills beforehand makes them better able to deal with the process of facing their memories during exposure therapy.

If you or someone you know is a woman suffering from PTSD, this treatment may offer you significant relief from your symptoms. Enrolling in emotional skills training followed by exposure therapy may better enable you to label, identify, and manage your feelings, tolerate distress, and accept positive emotions. Additionally, EMDR therapy has been proven to help PTSD patients.

Tags from the story
, ,


  • I find even so much as an article as this an encouraging starting point. In that I am pretty confident that I suffer from PTSD from a variety of events going back into very early childhood from my mothers remarriage into my mid twenties when I became the victim of a drunken excursion of a couple of hometown dudes. I find myself not knowing how to cope in “normal ” daily life and feel strangely unworthy of good things as if something is wrong with me and I am somehow undeserving. I am so afraid to trust people. Yet it is a double bind as I have to trust to get better. I need a support group like maybe at church where there is a support group for women who have been betrayed …. Any ideas? My funds are limited and largely due to my issues. I am a fairly attractive and intelligent woman who feels trapped inside of a scared little girls identity right now.

  • @Greatgal Oh my you were able to put into words for me which I have not been able to. I’m 55 yrs old and have had PTSD for all of my adult life. I have managed to attract people into my life who have no compassion or understanding of my condition. It has been quite hard.

  • This article so effectively describes what often happens when children are exposed to violence and/or abuse. It’s too bad that most medical professionals do not pick-up on the symtoms a woman might present with as she gets older and only prescribe medication for anxiety or depression, since the woman herself might not have any insight into the root of her problems. This only has a band-aid effect and true healing is prolonged or prevented from occuring. It’s such a tramatic thing to go through as a child and dysfunctional families usually do not allow the healthy processing of feelling to begin with so all problems and secrets are kept buried. Unfortunatly, if it was a part of your life growing up it is still there no matter how much it is stuffed down. Things and events can trigger a memory or uncomfortable feeling in an instant. There is hope to overcome and I encourage any woman out there who thinks she may be suffering from PTSD to reach out for help and don’t quit trying. You are a survivor and a fighter. I had to face my fears to reconcile the past that had control over me, but it has been worth it and I am so much stronger now, so please don’t give up. If you know any woman that has had child abuse or was exposed to domestic violence that you might suspect could be suffering the effects of PTSD gently reach out to her. You may
    just save her from a life time of pain.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *