Publication Date

2013-07-22

Availability

Open access

Embargo Period

2013-07-22

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)

Department

Educational and Psychological Studies (Education)

Date of Defense

2013-06-10

First Committee Member

Marie Guerda Nicolas

Second Committee Member

Kent Burnett

Third Committee Member

Amishi Jha

Fourth Committee Member

Carlos I. Perez Benitez

Abstract

Nationally, more males than females endorse experiencing a traumatic event, however, females are more likely to experience sexual trauma, and are more likely to meet criteria for PTSD subsequent to such traumatic event (Kessler, Sonnega, Brome, & Hughes, 1995; Kessler et al., 2005). Although there has been a wealth of information regarding the theoretical underpinnings of posttraumatic stress symptoms after a trauma (Ehlers & Clark, 2000; Foa & Kozak, 1986; Foa, 1997; Foa & Riggs, 1995), little is still known about the association between victims’ relationship with their current experience, and their ability to remain attentive to such experience on a moment to moment basis. As such this dissertation study was an attempt to link together well-established theoretical frameworks of sexual trauma with newer mindfulness-based, and attention-related, understandings of psychological suffering. In particular, this study sought to understand the association between self-reported mindfulness to inner experience, sustained attention, experiential avoidance and posttraumatic symptom severity among females with a history of sexual trauma. One hundred and eleven (n=111) English-speaking female participants over the age of 18 completed the study. The majority of the participants were U.S.-born, middle class, non-Hispanic/Latina White females. A little over two-thirds of the sample reported a history of both forced sex and molestation. Most of the sample experienced sexual victimization before the age of 18 (childhood sexual abuse), and a third experienced victimization in both childhood and adulthood (over 18). Overall, participants reported subclinical levels of posttraumatic symptom severity, and high levels of depressive symptomatology. Bivariate analyses suggest nuanced significant associations between the five facets of self-reported mindfulness (Non-React, Non-Judge, Act-Aware, Observe, and Describe) and posttraumatic symptom severity. Similarly, sustained attention as measured by self-reported errors in sustained attention, and experiential avoidance were significantly and positively associated with posttraumatic stress symptom severity. Regression analyses suggested that experiential avoidance was independently related to posttraumatic stress symptom severity, over and above depression and errors of sustained attention. There were differential relationships between three mindfulness facets (Observe, Describe, Act-Aware) and posttraumatic symptom severity, above and beyond depressive symptoms. Finally, only one mindfulness facet (Act-Aware) was related to errors of sustained attention, over and above depressive symptoms. Study findings suggest differential patterns of associations between mindfulness facets and posttraumatic symptom severity, as well as with sustained attention. These relationships held while controlling for psychological distress, which tends to be commonly comorbid with posttraumatic stress reactions among females with a sexual trauma history. Interestingly, experiential avoidance was a stronger predictor of posttraumatic stress symptom severity than was sustained attention. These findings are a significant addition to the literature as they reflect the importance of understanding the complicated relationships between mindfulness facets, sustained attention and trauma symptomatology. Similarly, they reflect the importance of taking into consideration experiential avoidance when studying the relationship between sustained attention and trauma symptoms. Implications for treatment and research are discussed.

Keywords

Females; Post-traumatic Stress Symptom Severity; PTSD; Sexual Victimization; Sustained Attention, Experiential Avoidance; Mindfulness; Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression

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