Conflict and health 2018 02 1212() 1 doi 10.1186/s13031-018-0142-4
Sexual violence is associated with a multitude of poor physical, emotional, and social outcomes. Despite reports of stigma by sexual violence survivors, limited evidence exists on effective strategies to reduce stigma, particularly in conflict-affected settings. We sought to assess the effect of group Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) on stigma and the extent to which stigma might moderate the effectiveness of CPT in treating mental health problems among survivors of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Data were drawn from 405 adult female survivors of sexual violence reporting mental distress and poor functioning in North and South Kivu. Women were recruited through organizations providing psychosocial support and then cluster randomized to group CPT or individual support. Women were assessed at baseline, the end of treatment, and again six months later. Assessors were masked to women’s treatment assignment. Linear mixed-effect regression models were used to estimate (1) the effect of CPT on feelings of perceived and internalized (felt) stigma, and (2) whether felt stigma and discrimination (enacted stigma) moderated the effects of CPT on combined depression and anxiety symptoms, posttraumatic stress, and functional impairment.
Participants receiving CPT experienced moderate reductions in felt stigma relative to those in individual support (Cohen’s D = 0.44, = value = 0.02) following the end of treatment, though this difference was no longer significant six-months later (Cohen’s D = 0.45, = value = 0.12). Neither felt nor enacted stigma significantly moderated the effect of CPT on mental health symptoms or functional impairment.
Group cognitive-behavioral based therapies may be an effective stigma reduction tool for survivors of sexual violence. Experiences and perceptions of stigma did not hinder therapeutic effects of group psychotherapy on survivors’ mental health.