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Surviving the Past - Overcoming Post-traumatic Stress Disorder From Domestic Violence

Discussion in 'News, Politics & Debates' started by batgirl, Jan 25, 2008.

  1. batgirl

    batgirl New Member

    Most people escape to the comfort of home to hide from life's troubles and stresses. But for women trapped in abusive relationships, home becomes their personal war zone. Even if they take steps to end the violence, the emotional trauma from years of mental and physical abuse often continues. In recent years, researchers have recognized that more than 60 percent of battered women who seek refuge in shelters meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder. Their hearts race. They relive the abuse in vivid dreams that rob them of sleep. They're always on guard, even when their abuser is nowhere near or even behind bars. They feel as if the abuse is actually happening to them again.

    But now a researcher from the Summa-Kent State Center for Treatment and Study of Traumatic Stress is launching the second phase of a study geared toward ending the lingering effects of domestic violence by treating post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Dr. Dawn Johnson, clinical coordinator for the traumatic stress center, recently received $525,000 from the National Institute of Mental Health to develop a treatment program for battered women in shelters. Through the three-year study, Johnson wants to develop a one-on-one counseling program that she has already been testing among women in the Battered Women's Shelter of Summit and Medina Counties since 2003.

    Most shelters don't have the resources and mental-health professionals on staff to address the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which can stop women from moving ahead with their lives, Johnson said. ''The risks for post-traumatic stress disorder are even higher when they're within an interpersonal relationship and there are trust issues,'' Johnson said.

    Battered women's shelters grew out of grass-roots efforts and tend to focus on case management and crisis intervention — things such as finding housing, jobs and transportation, said Dana Zedak, director of services for the Battered Women's Shelter of Summit and Medina Counties. ''Even though we're not clinical staff, we certainly know what post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms look like, and we see them all the time,'' she said.

    Left untreated, she said, the symptoms can stop abused women from gaining independence. ''When you're hoping someone is going to be able to get up in the morning, go sign up for assistance or find a job and they haven't slept all night because they're not able to shut their brain off from thinking about the trauma that they've experienced, it's not realistic,'' she said.

    The need for help is huge. Every 15 seconds in the United States, a woman is a victim of domestic violence, according to federal estimates. ''We don't want to acknowledge domestic violence,'' said Valorie Prulhiere, coordinator of victim services for Summa Health System's DOVE program (Developing Options for Violent Emergencies). ''We want to say: 'It happens to somebody else. It can't happen to me, because she doesn't have an education or she made a bad choice or she drinks. But the fact is, domestic violence affects every possible population breakdown. We see very well-educated people, and we see homeless people. We see people from every ZIP code in the region.''

    Johnson is working with researchers at Kent State University and Butler Hospital in Rhode Island to develop a counseling program that focuses on three steps of recovery: establishing safety, self-care and protection; remembrance and mourning; and reconnection. During the first phase of the study, Johnson found that women who completed six weeks of counseling were less likely to continue experiencing depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. In anonymous surveys completed after the program, at least two women mentioned that the counseling helped them recognize warning signs for abusive relationships.

    ''I think the 'Red Flags' were one of the most empowering things I was taught,'' one domestic violence survivor wrote. ''It is common sense things that not everyone thinks of. Since learning them, I have avoided (I believe) two abusive relationships.'' Another woman wrote that the counselors helped her to ''move past the first step of admitting the abuse.''

    However, researchers found in the first phase that many women couldn't get the full benefits of the program because they stayed in the shelter for less than six weeks. So the next phase will include continued counseling in a safe setting after the women leave the shelter.

    Starting in the spring, Johnson will recruit 60 women, half to receive the usual support offered at the shelter and the other half to get additional post-traumatic stress disorder counseling. Ultimately, the goal is to develop a counseling program that can be offered through domestic violence shelters nationwide. ''We want people to heal from PTSD symptoms, and we want people to get financially independent, and we want kids to get healthy things going on in their lives,'' Zedak said. ''Domestic violence is and can be fatal. People die.''


    Source: Cheryl Powell, Beacon Journal

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