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Women and Traumatic Events

Edna B. Foa, PhD; and Gordon P. Street, PhD

Published: January 3, 2001

Article Abstract
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) gained the status of a psychiatric disorder in 1980, although the syndrome had already been recognized widely for many years. PTSD is distinguished by alternations between reexperiencing of the traumatic event that triggered the PTSD in the first place and avoidance and numbing. Increased arousal (e.g., exaggerated startle reaction) also forms part of the diagnosis. Although the majority of trauma victims recover spontaneously, more than 30% develop persistent PTSD symptoms, with women being twice as likely as men to suffer PTSD. To date, the most studied psychosocial treatments for PTSD are the cognitive-behavioral interventions. Exposure therapy (systematic exposure to the traumatic memory in a safe environment) has been demonstrated to be quite effective with adult women who were sexually or nonsexually assaulted in adulthood as well as with women who were sexually abused in childhood. Supportive counseling does not appear as effective as exposure therapy, but is better than no therapy.

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