Psychodynamic and systemic group treatment for women with a history of childhood sexual abuse: five-year follow-up of a randomized controlled trial

European Journal of Psychotraumatology

Henriette K. Elkjær, Marianne Lau, Erik L. Mortensen, Ellids Kristensen & Stig Poulsen


Background: Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is a significant trauma that may have lifelong impact. Due to the long-term negative personal and societal consequences of CSA, it is crucial to find treatments with enduring outcomes.

Objective: The aim of this study was to determine the relative long-term efficacy of psychodynamic and systemic group therapy for adult women exposed to CSA.

Method: A prospective randomized controlled trial was conducted with outcomes assessed at pre- and post-treatment, and 1 and 5 years post-treatment. All analyses were intention-to-treat. One hundred and six women with sequelae from childhood sexual abuse were treated with psychodynamic or systemic group therapy. Primary outcome was Global Severity Index (GSI) of SCL-90-R. Secondary outcomes included symptoms of PTSD and depression and psycho-social functioning.

Results: Treatment was completed by 81% of participants; 64% completed the 1-year follow-up and 60% completed the 5-year follow-up. Completion rates did not differ between treatments. Significant reduction in symptoms measured on GSI and improvement of psychosocial functioning was found for both interventions at all measurement points after treatment (ES range = 0.68–1.19). However, different trajectories were observed: while outcome at end of treatment was significantly better in the systemic group, no differences in gains were observed at the 1- and 5-year follow-ups when controlling for baseline differences.

Conclusions: The findings add to the evidence base for psychodynamic and systemic group therapy, but the result also underscores the importance of taking post-treatment trajectories into account in evidence-based research, in the continued efforts to improve treatment for this population.

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