A randomized controlled trial of a trauma-informed support, skills, and psychoeducation intervention for survivors of torture and related trauma in Kurdistan, Northern Iraq

Judith Bass, Sarah Mc Ivor Murray, Thikra Ahmed Mohammed, Mary Bunn, William Gorman, Ahmed Mohammed Amin Ahmed, Laura Murray, Paul Bolton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Supportive counseling type interventions are frequently provided to meet the mental health needs of populations in emergency and post-conflicts contexts, but it has seldom been rigorously evaluated. Existing evaluations from low- and middle-income countries provide mixed evidence of effectiveness. While Iraqi Kurdistan experienced relative stability following the fall of Saddam Hussein's government, the population in the northern Dohuk region has continued to experience periodic violence due to conflicts with neighboring Turkey as well as more recent ISIS-associated violence.We evaluated the impact of a trauma-informed support, skills, and psychoeducation intervention provided by community mental health workers (CMHWs) on depressive symptoms and dysfunction (primary outcomes) as well as post-traumatic stress, traumatic grief, and anxiety symptoms (secondary outcomes). Between June 2009 and June 2010, 295 adults were screened; 209 (71%) met eligibility criteria (trauma exposure and a symptom severity score indicating significant distress and functional impairment, among others) and consented to participate. Of these, 159 were randomized to supportive counseling while 50 were randomized to a waitlist control condition. Comparing average symptom severity scores post-treatment among those in the intervention group with those in the waitlist control group, the supportive counseling program had statistically and clinically significant impacts on the primary outcomes of depression (Cohen's d, 0.57; P = .02) and dysfunction (Cohen's d, 0.53; P = .03) and significant but smaller impacts on anxiety. Although studies by the same research team of psychotherapeutic interventions in other parts of Kurdistan and in southern Iraq found larger effects, this study adds to the global research literature on mental health and psychosocial support and shows that a well-trained and supervised program of trauma-informed support, skills, and psychoeducation that emphasizes the therapeutic relationship can also be effective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)452-466
Number of pages15
JournalGlobal Health Science and Practice
Volume4
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 28 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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