Female Service Members PTSD Linked to Sexual Trauma
> 12/19/2006 2:15:37 PM

Dr. Diane Castillo, coordinator of the Women's Stress Disorder Treatment Team in the Albuquerque-based New Mexico Veterans Affairs Health Care System, presented research at a psychiatric symposium sponsored by The University of New Mexico that indicated that between 80% and 90% who seek treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder at her clinic have experienced sexual trauma before, during or after their time in the service. Castillo also presented a video that highlighted Veterans Affair's efforts to extend help to women who have served. The video, called "Women Who Served in Our Military: Insights for Interventions" can be viewed in its entirety at the Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD web page.

Dr. Castillo's research is ongoing, but she noted that she has already begun to find similarities and differences between the presentation of PTSD in male and female veterans who seek treatment at the VA where she works. While men with PTSD typically score higher than women on measures of anger, males and females score more comparably in tests that measure resentment, suspicion and guilt. She also pointed out that women with PTSD tend to score higher in suspicion and resentment measures than do men who present with other mental health problems.

The sexual trauma remains the most important difference here, and during the symposium, they discussed a range of events that ran from sexual assault to persistent sexual harassment by other service members in the field. Castillo also made sure to point out that there were exceptions to these types of service experiences as in tightly knit groups of reservists who looked out for one another. During the presentation, Castillo and her presenter laid out a treatment plan specifically tailored to the needs of women dealing with PTSD. Through several levels of therapy, often in group settings, this treatment addressed the roots of the PTSD and, in particular, the sexual trauma that is a factor in the majority of cases.

If her data holds up over the course of her study, Dr. Castillo's findings about the prevalence of sexual trauma in female veterans will prove an important area of focus in the design of future treatment strategies. This should also be an area of future study, especially on the part of the Veterans Administration. It will be difficult, but necessary to dissect the different issues at play here if we hope to effectively combat posttraumatic stress disorder in female veterans.

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