Chris Blattman

Some research with good news: “Therapy for victims of sexual violence shows promise in Congo”

A type of group therapy designed for trauma victims has proved extraordinarily helpful for survivors of sexual violence in Democratic Republic of Congo, enabling women to overcome the shame, nightmares and terrifying flashbacks that had left them unable to work or take care of their families or themselves, researchers report.

An article about the therapy, published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine, is a rare event: a rigorous study of a treatment meant to heal the mental and emotional scars of women in a part of Africa where rape has become a routine weapon of war. Congo, with two decades of civil war, has been called the rape capital of the world by the United Nations. The country has little or no treatment for those with mental health problems.

A team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Washington in Seattle and the International Rescue Committee brought a type of treatment called cognitive processing therapy to Congo. They adapted the method to treat women who could not read or write, and taught it to local health workers who had a high school education or less.

…The improvement from group therapy was striking, the researchers found. Six months after treatment, only 9 percent of the women who received group therapy still had anxiety, depression or PTSD. By comparison, 42 percent of the women who had individual support still had those problems.

NY Times article here. Academic article here.

I often heap criticism on psychology studies, but this one is excellent. Then again, I might be biased because I’m married to one of the authors.

Now there is the challenging question of scale. Some researchers estimate that about 40 percent of the women in the region have been victims of sexual violence.

16 Responses

  1. I have two suggestions for the authors. The individual support group were less likely to be married–having suffered sexual abuse prior to marriage means these women will suffer through the stigma of being “damaged goods” and, therefore, will be less likely to been deemed suitable to potential suitors. This is a potential confound to the results as it is important in African culture.
    On a clinical note, African women routinely meet, in small groups, around a cooking fire. It is the time to talk and share information. The psychotherapy group, in a sense, may have mimicked culturally accepted ways of processing much more closely than the individual support group. I would have wished the author group had addressed cultural issues beyond “low-income” demographics more closely.
    Having said all of the above, the results are very encouraging.

Comments are closed.

Why We Fight - Book Cover
Subscribe to Blog