Controlled Trial of Psychotherapy for Congolese Survivors of Sexual Violence

Survivors of sexual violence have high rates of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although treatment for symptoms related to sexual violence has been shown to be effective in high-income countries, evidence is lacking in low-income, conflict-affected countries.  

In this trial in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we randomly assigned 16 villages to provide cognitive processing therapy (1 individual session and 11 group sessions) or individual support to female sexual-violence survivors with high levels of PTSD symptoms and combined depression and anxiety symptoms. One village was excluded owing to concern about the competency of the psychosocial assistant, resulting in 7 villages that provided therapy (157 women) and 8 villages that provided individual support (248 women). Assessments of combined depression and anxiety symptoms (average score on the Hopkins Symptom Checklist [range, 0 to 3, with higher scores indicating worse symptoms]), PTSD symptoms (average score on the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire [range, 0 to 3, with higher scores indicating worse symptoms]), and functional impairment (average score across 20 tasks [range, 0 to 4, with higher scores indicating greater impairment]) were performed at baseline, at the end of treatment, and 6 months after treatment ended.

In this study of sexual-violence survivors in a low-income, conflict-affected country, group psychotherapy reduced PTSD symptoms and combined depression and anxiety symptoms and improved functioning. (Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development Victims of Torture Fund and the World Bank; ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT01385163.)

Published 2019-01-07