Emotionally laden themes in sexual abuse survivors: Correlation with treatment outcome

Anne Windsor Beaman (2005)

The present study was based on data from a prior study of treatment for PTSD in adult female survivors of childhood sexual abuse (see McDonagh et al., 2005). The purpose of the present study was to determine whether relationships could be found between themes identified in the narratives of the original subjects and the relative reduction (or increase) in PTSD symptoms following the treatment provided. Prior research on the consequences of childhood sexual abuse has shown that survivors may develop maladaptive beliefs about self, others, and the nature of the world at large that may interfere with resolution of the trauma and healthy adaptation in adulthood. This study examined transcripts of narrative interviews with 27 of the original subjects, and coded passages in the text that represented one or more of six identified themes frequently identified in maladaptive form in sexual abuse survivors: Helpless, Fear, Anger, Guilt, Shame, and Abandonment (the latter interpreted as betrayal of trust, failure of protection, and related concepts). Identified passages were also coded according to whether the theme was experienced in childhood (birth through age 16), or in adulthood (age 17 and older). Using linear regression, the percentage of lines of text coded for any of the six themes was then correlated with the percent by which the subjects' PTSD symptom level had declined or increased at posttreatment and follow-up. Results showed very little statistically significant correlation, but findings of potential clinical interest included a negative relationship between incidence of both Abandonment in childhood and Guilt in adulthood and PTSD symptom reduction. Problems with research design and clinical implications of findings are discussed.