Trauma Research

The Psychosocial Treatment Laboratory has conducted research on the impact of natural trauma survivors, the development of dissociative reactions to trauma such as Acute and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Dissociative Identity Disorder, the effects of childhood sexual abuse and related memories, and the use of group psychotherapy and hypnosis in treating trauma survivors. Dr. Spiegel and his colleagues have demonstrated the prevalence of dissociative reactions in response to the Loma Prieta earthquake, witnessing an execution, the Oakland Berkeley firestorm, and being in an office building where there was a shooting rampage resulting in multiple deaths and injuries. In addition, the interface between disease and trauma leads us to ask two opposing questions: 1) does unresolved trauma contribute to the development of disease and 2) does the experience of having a disease and treatment qualify as a traumatic stressor?

For a list of completed studies, please refer to the Recent Studies page.

  1. Group Interventions to Prevent HIV in High Risk Women
  2. Risk and Resilience in Coping with the Terrorist Attacks


Group Interventions to Prevent HIV in High Risk Women

Principal Investigator: David Spiegel, M.D.
Co-Principal Investigator: Cheryl Koopman, Ph.D.
Project Director and Co-Investigator: Catherine Classen, Ph.D.

Funding: National Institutes of Mental Health

This is a four-year study begun in the fall of 1999. The primary purpose is to evaluate the effectiveness of trauma-focused group therapy against a present-focused group therapy for reducing HIV risk behavior and revictimization among adult women survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). Research indicates that childhood sexual abuse is a major risk factor for becoming HIV-infected. Individuals with CSA may be less able to benefit from HIV/AIDS prevention intervention if they continue to be traumatized by their earlier CSA experiences thereby interfering with their learning safer patterns of interpersonal and personal functioning. This study will examine whether or not it is helpful to focus on survivors' memories of CSA in order to reduce HIV risk behavior, revictimization, and distress. It will also examine potential mediators of treatment effectiveness for CSA survivors. This randomized clinical intervention trial will compare a 6-month trauma-focused group therapy against a 6-month present-focused group therapy comparison condition and a case-management only control condition. All participants will receive case management. We are recruiting a total of 192 adult women survivors of childhood sexual abuse. All 192 participants must meet criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for CSA as well as meeting criteria for being at a high risk for HIV infection. Participants will be assessed on behavioral and other psychosocial measures at baseline and periodically for one year.


Risk and Resilience in Coping with the Terrorist Attacks

Principal Investigator: David Spiegel, M.D.
Co-Principal Investigator: Lisa Butler, Ph.D.

Collaborators: Jay Azarow, Ph.D., Cheryl Koopman, Ph.D.

This study is an Internet-based, two-wave panel study of how Americans responded to tragic events of September 11, 2001. The research team recognized in the tragedy the potential not only to expand knowledge of posttraumatic distress, but also to better understand the ways in which many individuals successfully cope and demonstrate resiliency, and some even experience psychological growth. The study began collecting baseline data just 17 days after the attacks, and has become one of the largest and most in-depth longitudinal studies of 9/11's effects. Data collection for the second wave of the study was completed in May 2002. Data analysis is currently underway, with initial publication of findings expected in Fall 2003. Preliminary findings indicate that long-term resilience following the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 is strongly related to variability in demographic, emotional, cognitive, and coping variables in the more immediate aftermath of the event. In particular, those with more education, those with better and more plentiful social supports, those who did not criticize or blame themselves, and those who endorsed fewer deleterious changes in how they viewed the world at baseline reported lower distress and higher well-being at 6 month follow-up. Additional information on this study is available elsewhere on this website and at the study's own site (http://coping.stanford.edu).


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