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Does Narrative Exposure Therapy Reduce PTSD in Survivors of Mass Violence?

Article of the Week:

Does Narrative Exposure Therapy Reduce PTSD in Survivors of Mass Violence?

by McPherson, J. (2012).

(Research on Social Work Practice, 22(1), 29-42. DOI: 10.1177/1049731511414147)

Background

As a comeback to my series of summaries of interesting scientific research articles in psychology, I’ll start with something directly relevant to my current work as a PhD Candidate researcher.

After a particularly frightening, dangerous or otherwise intensely stressful experience, stress reactions can be considered normal. However, if such symptoms persist for several months, we may speak of persistent post-traumatic stress symptoms and, in cases where they reach a certain clinically significant level, of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Typically, PTSD symptoms consist of involuntarily re-experiencing the traumatic event in some way (flashback phenomena, intrusive thoughts and memories), avoiding places, people and things that are reminders of the trauma or act as triggers for re-experiencing, and hyper-arousal (problems concentrating, sleeping, over-vigilance, feelings of danger).

The standard treatments for PTSD and related symptoms include trauma-focused and other forms of cognitive behavioral therapy. However, clinicians and researchers have found that these standard treatments often do not work so well with individuals who have repeatedly experienced many traumatic incidents, especially in contexts such as war and armed conflict. With this in mind, new forms of therapy appropriate for such sequentially traumatized individuals are needed.

One such relatively new form of therapy is Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET), developed by M. Schauer, F. Neuner and T. Elbert, drawing on emotional processing theory, trauma-focused CBT and testimonial therapy. It is a program of on average eight sessions, where emotional processing and thus healing is thought to occur through repeated narration of the traumatic events leading to habituation to their distressing effects, as well as through the reconstruction of a coherent narrative of the events and their place in the individual’s autobiographical memories. The entire life story of the patient, including her/his most negative and traumatic as well as positive experiences, is narrated and written down in detail during the therapy.

The article summarized here is a review by J. McPherson of the evidence “so far” (until 2011 or so, that is) on the effectiveness of Narrative Exposure Therapy to reduce PTSD symptoms, mainly in survivors of different forms of mass violence.

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