Rape-Stress Counselor Expands Therapy to Other Trauma Victims

Article excerpt

On the third date with a preppy young businessman, a woman stops at his apartment for drinks. He rapes her.

A police officer chases a drug dealer into a crack house. The dealer wheels around with what looks like a gun in his hand. The officer fires one shot and drops the dealer, who had a blowdryer - not a gun - in his hand.

An elderly flood victim without insurance loses everything in last summer's deluge.

The rape victim, the police officer and the flood victim in these examples are good candidates for post-traumatic stress disorder, a mysterious condition that commonly afflicts victims of shocking events.

Patricia Resick, a psychologist and professor at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, has developed a therapy to help them.

Resick is getting a $1 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to treat victims of the disorder, and she hopes soon to have a trauma research center and clinic that operate together to serve victims in this area.

The grant follows on the heels of an earlier grant of $1.2 million the institute awarded Resick to study rape victims with the disorder; that work is continuing.

Resick says rape victims can suffer these symptoms:

- Flashbacks and nightmares.

- Avoidance of reminders of the trauma.

- Hyperarousal - "jumpiness"- and anxiety.

According to Resick, most rape victims initially exhibit symptoms such as rapid pulse, increased sweating and blinking and changes in body posture. Within three months, half of these victims find that the symptoms disappear. The rest continue to suffer from fear, distrust, insomnia, concentration problems, lack of emotion and panic episodes. They may turn to drugs or alcohol to treat their symptoms.

What makes the difference?

"If these people were psychologically healthy before, they're likely to recover," Resick said. Long-term symptoms result when the victim can't reconcile her long-held beliefs with the traumatic event.

Before the rape, the date-rape victim in the above example believed that women weren't raped by people they knew. Rape only happened to careless women who walked alone on dark streets, she thought. Now, the woman feels guilty and blames herself: "I asked for it. I consented. It wasn't rape." She can't sleep. She awakes in the middle of the night, sweating, after a terrifying nightmares. She's afraid to leave the house. She hates men.

Before the shooting, the police officer thought he would only fire his gun if he faced certain death. …