A new psychological intervention has been shown to more than halve the trauma experienced by child victims of war, rape and sexual abuse.
Researchers at Queen's University Belfast pioneered the intervention in conjunction with the international NGO (non-governmental organisation) World Vision as part of a wider programme to treat psychological distress in child victims of war and sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Known as "the rape capital of the world", it is estimated that girls and women in the eastern DRC are 134 times more likely to be raped than their counterparts in the West.
After only 15 sessions of the new group-based Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (TF-CBT), Queen's researchers found reductions of:
- 72 per cent in trauma symptoms in female victims of rape and sexual abuse;
- 81 per cent in feelings of depression and anxiety;
- 72 per cent in conduct disorder;
- 64 per cent in antisocial behaviour.
In the Queen's study, the children received sessions of trauma psycho- education, relaxation techniques, mental imagery techniques, and tips on how to identify and change particular inaccurate or unhelpful cognitions.
The girls also drew pictures of their most traumatic events and were encouraged to talk about these events in individual sessions with Queen's psychologists and a team of Congolese counsellors who were trained by the university's lead researchers, Paul O'Callaghan and John McMullen.
Mr O'Callaghan, from Queen's School of Psychology, said: "The dramatic reduction in trauma, depression and anxiety, conduct problems and antisocial behaviour shows that this kind of therapy is very effective in treating war-affected children who have been exposed to rape and sexual violence.
"In addition to the statistical results of the therapy, many of the girls attested to how the intervention helped reduce their terrible nightmares, disturbing flashbacks and suicidal thinking. For me, that was the most rewarding part of our work in the DRC."