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Int J Group Psychother. 1998 Oct;48(4):533-41.

Group psychotherapy for women molested in childhood: psychological and somatic symptoms and medical visits.

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  • 1Kaiser Permanente Health Care Program, San Diego, USA.


Molested women who completed a series of 16 weekly group psychotherapy sessions conducted by social workers improved substantially regarding various aspects of psychological functioning, including self-image, coping techniques, relationship issues, and mothering. In addition, there was significant improvement in all psychological symptom scales and all global indices of symptomatic distress measured by the SCL-90-R. Furthermore, the improvement was present immediately after therapy and, with the exception of the hostility score, persisted 1 year later. Although the somatization score was reduced, the number of visits for physical symptoms did not change. The patients studied manifested characteristics typical of previously surveyed women with a history of childhood abuse, including a frequent history of major surgery (Drossman et al., 1996; Longstreth & Wolde-Tsadik, 1993; Springs & Friedrich, 1992) and, in some, a previous problem with alcohol (Springs & Friedrich, 1992; Walker et al., 1995) or drugs (Longstreth & Wolde-Tsadik, 1993; Miller & McCluskey-Fawcett, 1993; Springs & Friedrich, 1992). Also, nearly one half of the subjects had irritable bowel syndrome, the prototypical functional bowel disorder (Drossman et al., 1995; Longstreth & Wolde-Tsadik, 1993; Scarinci et al., 1994; Walker et al., 1995). Most of their baseline SCL-90-R scores were > 1 SD above the nonpatient norms. A problem inherent in assessing the long-term benefit of this study and other group psychotherapy studies is the tendency for some patients to continue similar or different forms of therapy after completing the group sessions. More than one half of patients received subsequent therapy that could have influenced their status at 1-year follow-up. However, most of the symptom dimensions and all global indices were similar 1 year posttherapy in the women who did not receive more treatment as compared to results in the women who did. Patients who received additional therapy had higher somatization scores before, immediately after, and 1 year posttherapy; scores in the other group increased 1 year posttherapy. Although the indications for subsequent therapy were not surveyed, there was an association between additional psychological care seeking and somatization. Furthermore, improvement in psychological status reflected by the phobic-anxiety score immediately posttherapy may have contributed to the decision of some patients to seek subsequent therapy. In the group without additional treatment, the loss of some of the initial somatization improvement at 1 year may have contributed to the lack of reduction in medical care visits in the combined groups. We speculate that provision of additional therapy to more patients might have had a long-term effect on somatization and reduced medical visits. We obtained complete psychological data and nearly complete medical-visit data on our patients, and our survey included 1-year follow-up. Our survey did not meet rigorous methodological standards for an outcome study, however. We surveyed only a small number of patients and did not collect similar data on an untreated control group. It was not possible to distinguish health care visits for organic versus functional disorders, but such a distinction may be artificial, because psychological factors may influence health care seeking for "organic" illness. Because our measurements came from a subset of our patients who were willing to complete the survey questionnaires, we do not know how generalizable the findings are. There is increasing awareness among health care professionals that childhood sexual abuse is common and that it may have serious and long-term psychological and medical sequelae. Our data suggest that group psychotherapy by social workers for women victims may have long-lasting psychological and somatic symptom benefits. Reduction in health care usage was not found, and this outcome may require the identification and treatment of patients who need additi

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