An examination of the influence of a sequential treatment on the course and impact of dissociation among women with PTSD related to childhood abuse

Depress Anxiety. 2012 Aug;29(8):709-17. doi: 10.1002/da.21920. Epub 2012 May 1.


Background: It has been proposed that posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients who experience significant dissociation upon exposure to traumatic reminders may do less well in trauma-focused therapies. We explored whether a sequenced two-component treatment in which an emotion regulation skills training module preceding exposure would improve outcomes for those with significant dissociation.

Methods: Analyses were conducted on data from an RCT in which 104 women with PTSD related to childhood abuse were assigned to one of three treatment conditions: Skills Training in Affective and Interpersonal Regulation (STAIR) followed by Narrative Story Telling (NST; STAIR/NST), STAIR followed by supportive counseling (SC; STAIR/SC), or SC followed by NST (SC/NST).

Results: Baseline dissociation was associated with differential outcome such that at low levels of dissociation the three treatments were equally effective but at higher levels STAIR/NST resulted in greater reductions in dissociative symptoms. Level of baseline dissociation did not moderate the effect of the treatments on PTSD outcome. At all levels of baseline dissociation, STAIR/NST produced better PTSD outcome. At posttreatment, however, participants with high dissociation treated with STAIR/NST continued to improve during follow-up, those treated with STAIR/SC maintained gains, and those treated with SC/NST experienced loss of posttreatment PTSD symptom gains.

Conclusions: The differential results observed among the treatments depending on severity of dissociation at baseline and at posttreatment suggest the potential clinical utility of identifying a dissociative subtype of PTSD and of the benefits of sequenced, phase-oriented treatment approaches.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Comorbidity
  • Disease Progression
  • Dissociative Disorders / epidemiology
  • Dissociative Disorders / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Middle Aged
  • Narrative Therapy
  • Prognosis
  • Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy*
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Women / psychology